Safety is at the centre of everything that we do.
It was critical to ensure that we could integrate safe practices into both our project, and our working environment; and we achieved this using a wide variety of safety approaches and frameworks
Safety by design
Safety by design was implemented in various parts of our project, in order to 'design out' hazards that may pose a risk as a result of the project. This section will explore how we approached this implementation, with a particular emphasis on: Operator safety & Biological Containment
Safety Design in the Gene Gun
The operating mechanism of a Gene Gun carries inherent risks, which were considered in the design stage. Of course, no test runs were attempted until a full risk assessment had been conducted, and reviewed by qualified and experienced engineers.
Air Pressure Risks
Safety by design in the Growth Facility
The hazards posed by a growth facility are somewhat more subtle than the gene gun, but were nevertheless considered.
Safety by design in Chlamydomonas Transformations
Successfully expressing cas9 in Chlamydomonas could lead to the creation of a 'gene drive' -- that is, the modified organism would quickly go about propagating its DNA amongst a new population. This is something we were keen to avoid, so ensured that our design added layers of protection in case of release of biological material.
We considered two methods of achieving this: by either placing cas9 outside of the homology regions (and the gene will be lost very quickly), or to design some gRNA to force the cas9 protein to destroy the cas9 genes - effectively a kill switch.
Safety by Procedure
As a very interdisciplinary team, Cambridge-JIC iGEM team members have a wide range of experience, but also come from different backgrounds when it comes to issues such as safety. Suitable training is necessary in order to ensure that every member of the team understands and appreciates safety procedures unique to the laboratory we were working in.
University and Departmental Procedures and Policies
Within the department and university, there exists a greater safety framework, which we operate under. Activities carried out in the lab, especially genetically modified organisms, were conducted under centrally issued guidelines, and as a result we did not need to create our own safety polices where one already existed.