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

Overview of Safety Strategy

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

Commercial Gene Guns typically operate at pressures of over 1300psi, and component failure at this pressure presents hazards with very severe consequences. In order to combat this hazard, the gene gun was designed to operate between 100-140psi, avoiding, or at the very least mitigating against, this hazard.
However, the risk of component failure and debris created by using pressurized air is not completely eliminated by design. A transparent protective screen was added, to provide an extra layer of protection for the user. This lowers the risk to the operator, and is considered a vital part of the device.

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.

Biological Containment

The design of our growth facility led to a very low risk of environmental biological contamination. Simply, the strains grow on a gel within a petridish -- hence the containment is managed by the petri dish (which can of course be further sealed). Consequently, the growth facility does not increase the risk of biological release over conventional growth methods.

Electrical Safety

Electricity presents a serious hazard to the operator. In this case, this risk was mitigated by using an external power supply (compliant to UK and EU regulations), and using a low voltage DC source to power the device itself. This power supply was grounded, and thoroughly checked before connected to UK mains (low voltage AC - 230V)

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.

Formal safety training included a brief by the laboratory manager, and further supervised 'on the job' training was delivered by various staff to ensure that everyone was aware what safety procedures were required.

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.