Safety of Laboratory
All lab work and experiments were done according to laboratory safety policies at Macquarie University. The lab team was trained and escorted by instructors for the entire duration of our work to ensure the safety and health of team members and alike.
The main safety aspects of our daily routine in the lab included:
- Personal protective equipment: In order to work in the lab, it was ensured that all students were wearing a lab coat and closed leather shoes. Upon arrival to the work station, safety glasses and gloves were provided. Before and after the lab work, team members cleaned their hands.
- Safe practices: The work benches were sterilized using ethanol at the end of every day. Waste was disposed appropriately using biological waste bins and regular waste bins. This was important as E. coli should not get into waterways, and correct disposal methods were followed.
Safety of Project Design
In our project, we used non-pathogenic K-12 E. coli strains are labelled biosafety level 1 organisms (BSL-1), as it is considered consistently harmless to healthy adults and was used under standard microbiological practices/aseptic technique. Contact with E. coli may cause irritation to skin or eyes in susceptible individuals. It would be harmful if ingested. To reduce these risks, all students have undergone a biosafety briefing which included a review of general lab safety. This outlined proper safe and efficient machine operation techniques and laboratory processes. Correct and safe laboratory wear was also addressed in this briefing. Correct waste disposal was also addressed in this briefing.
Gene Patenting and Australian Law
Gene patents have been a central topic of debate by the Australian legal scholarship for the past 10 years. The U.S Myriad decision declared that genes are not patentable in the U.S due to the natural occurrence of the isolated base pairs. The High Court in October 2015 unanimously confirmed that you cannot patent genetic material in Australia. However, Australia did allow the domestic patenting of isolated genes that are recognizably different to genes in DNA. As a result, we are able to provide iGEM participants and researchers with an overview of how this decision applies to Australia, while considering Australian patent law in relation to genes.
In 2014, this issue was appealed to the High court, challenging the Myriad decision in Australian courts. The D’Arcy case argued that since genes are naturally occurring substances, that it should not be possible to grant a patent over a gene sequence that someone can discover to have special significance. From this, we have recognized the importance to identify and review the current Australian patent law and intellectual property.
The Macquarie team urges the Australian Government to extend the exemption to patent human genes for commercial use as this would make medical care affordable and accessible for all Australians. Communication about legal issues such as patenting is an important key point, as researchers need to understand the legal boundaries upon which they operate in, especially in issues such as the positions of law and the identification of concerning areas.