Within the Laboratory
Since we are only using Risk Group 1 organisms in our project, there is little danger from biological hazards. However there is still the risk of injury due to the laboratory equipment and reagents we use. Some of these include centrifuges, UV boxes, autoclaves, Bunsen burners, strong acids and bases and reagents, all of which could be potentially dangerous if handled wrong. To reduce this risk we have all undergone laboratory training and inductions before the use of any equipment. We only work in our laboratory when there is one of our supervisors in the general vicinity, to help if there is an incident of any sort. For every new task within the laboratory we must design and write up a protocol, Safe Work Procedure and Risk assessment form. All of which are filed in the laboratory for any member of the team to check as necessary, and detail the need for PPE, a fume hood or other risk management tools.
Within our laboratory we always follow some basic laboratory rules including; No running in the laboratory, no eating or drinking, hands must be washed prior to exiting the laboratory, long hair must be tied back and all incidents must be reported to our supervisor. In addition, every team member has received the standard training for MDHS (Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences) faculty students, including training in emergency procedures and controls, OH&S, risk management, hazard and incident reporting, electrical safety, general laboratory rules, PPE, chemicals and poisons, waste management and workplace behaviour and bullying. Moreover, every team member is inducted into the correct handling of each piece of laboratory equipment before use.
Guidelines and regulation
To manage the risk to the environment that our genetically modified organisms pose, our laboratory follows the Australian Guidelines. There are 10 parts of these guidelines that outline the national regulations and standards for safety in laboratories within Australia (e.g. AS/NZS 22.43.3: 2010 Safety in laboratories: microbiological safety and containment.)
Our Laboratory is a registered Physical Containment Level 1 Laboratory, thus we comply with all University and Australian National Guidelines to a PC1 standard. This includes strict guidelines on disposing of our bacterial waste, which we soak in sodium hypochlorite before being double bagged and disposed of in a locked bin, to be incinerated commercially. These guidelines also detail the way we transport our bacteria between laboratories, work within our lab and forbid the release of any GMO organisms to the environment.
Risk to Humans
One of the future applications we envision for our project is its use in drug development. The Starscaffold could potentially be used in drug delivery, to form hydrogels which can slowly release pharmaceuticals, as an alternative to antibiotics, or to co-localize enzymes and pharmaceutical products to improve reaction kinetics. All of these uses would require our Starscaffold being exposed to the patient's immune system. Therefore the StarScaffold's toxicity, specificity, half life, and potential to cause toxic shock or an allergic response would all need to be investigated thoroughly. This would involve further characterisation and in vitro experiments, animal trials and eventually human trials.
Risk to the Environment
We also envision the Starscaffold having a potential use in manufacturing and within household and agricultural products. These uses would involve exposing humans, animals and the environment to the Starscaffold. Therefore it would be vital to understand the proteins toxicity, half-life, risk to waterways, human and animal health and its affect on native flora and fauna. If the E.coli that produces the Starscaffold was to be used outside of a laboratory it would also be necessary to further investigate the potential of the Starscaffold genes to act as a virulence factor and the risk of horizontal transfer of these genes between microbes. To achieve any of these goals we would need the approval of the governmental bodies that regulate the use of GMOs and GMO derived products.