Prior to commencing any wet laboratory work, the team completed extensive safety documentation, online safety modules, and physical safety workshops. All work was conducted in a Physical Containment Level 2 (PC-2) laboratory, which required additional training and safety measures.
The documentation outlined specific safety concerns and the appropriate response to potential hazardous situations, which allowed our team to have a broad and comprehensive understanding of common safety issues that could occur within this lab specifically. This documentation was crucial for us to gain a base level of knowledge about safety issues surrounding the environment we were going to be working in, which in turn allowed us to guarantee the safety of not only ourselves, but of others sharing the lab space.
The online safety module covered general laboratory practices that minimise risk to ourselves and to those around us. Hypothetical situations were posed to us, and we had to practice identifying the appropriate safety response.
The safety workshop took place during the induction into the PC-2 laboratory space. We were shown the location of all of the safety equipment, as well as the fire escapes, and correct procedure/route to the evacuation area. We were also introduced to the First Aid Officers, and given their contact details.
Overall, all phases of general laboratory safety addressed the following: - Personal protective equipment: lab coats and enclosed leather shoes were to be worn at all times, and long hair had to be tied back. When working with corrosives, acids, bases, and alcohols, gloves and safety glasses were also required. Upon leaving the lab, a disinfectant hand-wash had to be used as well.
- Safety equipment: the operation of emergency showers and eyewash were demonstrated, as well as other emergency equipment including a fire blanket, extinguisher, and the panic button.
- Building safety: the location of fire escapes, fire evacuation plans, and First Aid Officers
- Chemical safety: the location and appropriate storage methods of different classes of chemicals e.g. in the fume hood, flammables cabinet, and general chemical store cabinet
- Waste disposal: location of biological safety hazard waste containers, sharps disposal containers, autoclaving methods, and spills kits location/contents
If our product were to be available in the real world at the conclusion of this project, there would be many biosafety issues associated with it. Currently, both the sticker and handheld biosensor device rely on E.coli bacteria as the host for the genetic mechanism required to detect ethylene. This means that GMO E.coli would be stuck onto all fresh produce. Given the early stage of this technology, there is the chance of mutation or contamination concerns with the close proximity of our GMO bacteria to fresh fruit. It also would not bode well with the portion of the population who are skeptical about genetically engineered technology, and could thus act as a deterrent for consuming fresh fruit.
To eliminate this risk in the future, this technology could be developed into a cell-free, paper-based biosensor, such that the mechanism can still be used but without the need to plaster live bacterial cells all over fresh produce.
Alternatively, we have conducted preliminary research into using yeast as a host cell.
Elements specific to our project that required additional safety practices include:
- Ethene oxide: whether EtnR2 also binds to ethene oxide was also tested. Since ethene oxide is a flammable, highly reactive gas that is known to be a carcinogen, proper safety measures were taken. These include working in a fume hood and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as lab coats, gloves and safety glasses to limit exposure.
- Ethylene: ethylene is a flammable gas, and as such, was always used in the fume hood with proper PPE. Care was also taken when using it since it was stored at high pressure.
- Sharps: needles were used in the dialysis of the proteins for the EMSA. These needles were only handled by team members and supervisors who were properly trained, wearing PPE such as gloves. The needles were also disposed of in sharps disposal containers.