Team:Wageningen UR/Safety

iGEM Wageningen 2021

Lab safety

people behind fences

Safety is an integral aspect of Cattlelyst. Next to the built-in safety system that we engineered to render our biofilter safe, we also ensured that the development of our “optimal” biofilter organisms was conducted in a safe manner. Laboratories often contain significant risks for the workers, such as extremely high and low temperatures, dangerous chemicals, and biohazards. In addition, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could escape from the lab, potentially causing damage to the environment. Therefore, it is imperative that lab workers follow safety rules that help manage the risks associated with lab work.

After passing an official examination of the Wageningen University regarding safe handling of chemicals, microorganisms, equipment, and emergency situations, students were trained in the practical aspects of the lab rules. Only after completing this preparation course were the students allowed to start performing their experiments in the lab.

lab glasses

Cattlelyst relies on genetically modified bacteria to remove the methane and ammonia emissions of cattle stalls. We considered lab safety from the start of the design of our project, allowing us to effectively manage the risks associated with lab work. We purposefully chose chassis organisms that require biosafety level 1 (BSL-1) biocontainment precautions, as they pose the lowest potential hazards to lab workers and the environment. This allowed us to work with them in the available laboratories, certified in all cases for work with BSL-1 organisms. In addition, we made sure that all other organisms we worked with were classified as BSL-1. To conduct experiments with genes from BSL-2 organisms, we acquired purified genomic DNA from other departments or synthesized the genes directly. None of these genes were considered virulence factors, and they were deemed safe to introduce in BSL-1 organisms. Finally, we strove to limit the spread of GMOs to the environment by wearing lab coats, handwashing, disinfecting surfaces, and autoclavation of all GMO waste.

Because Cattlelyst depends on the metabolic conversion of methane and ammonia, testing the performance of our GMOs that mediate this multi-step conversion often required the addition of chemicals to their growth medium. Similarly, successful conversion of these compounds resulted in the production of new chemicals. Many of the intermediates in the conversion of methane to carbon dioxide and ammonia to dinitrogen pose a potential hazard to the health of lab personnel. Thus, the Safety and Hazards information for each chemical was examined thoroughly before use, and an approach was carefully designed to conduct experiments safely. For example, to test for the activity of the nitric-oxide reductase enzymes, nitric oxide (NO) needed to be added to the culture medium. However, NO is extremely dangerous to life and health at only 100 ppm [1]. Pure NO was deemed too dangerous to work with, so an NO-donor that only releases NO when dissolved was used instead. The rest of the experiment was conducted inside a fume hood.

By following the prescribed safety guidelines carefully, as well as proactively looking for safer alternatives to hazardous situations, we managed to ensure the safe development of Cattlelyst.

About Cattlelyst

Cattlelyst is the name of the iGEM 2021 WUR team. Our name is a mix of 1) our loyal furry friends, cattle, and 2) catalyst, which is something that increases the rate of a reaction. We are developing “the something” that converts the detrimental gaseous emissions of cattle, hence our name Cattlelyst.

Are you curious about our journey? We have written about our adventures in our blog, which you can find here: