For iGEM 2008, teams are asked to detail how they approached any issues of biological safety associated with their projects. See this link. Specifically, teams are to consider the following questions:

Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?

  • What does your local biosafety group think about your project?
  • Do any of the new BioBrick parts that you made this year raise any safety issues?
  • If yes, did you document these issues in the Registry?

Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:

  • Researcher safety?
  • Public safety?
  • Environmental safety?

Biological safety

Within our department of Biotechnology in Delft, the Biological Safety Officer (BSO) is ultimately responsible for safety in the labs. Via this person, we learned under which permits our work is conducted and what is allowed and not allowed in terms of wetlab activities. The BSO is to be informed on a regular basis on what we are doing and plan to do in the near future. Also, the BSO has to approve of the project initially.

The molecular biology lab we worked in is an ML1 lab. Each lab within the department has a person responsible for checking whether or not the rules are followed. Every day before someone begins working in the lab, he or she should register and mention permit number in a log.

The rules of the lab, the permit and the BSO are followed strictly; the project did not raise any safety issues working under these requirements.

Safety issues

In safety issues, a distinction can be made between legal (or obligatory) safety issues and moral safety issues. The rules of the lab were followed strictly; hence legally researcher, public and environmental safety risks can be considered minimal. For the moral safety issues, this is a totally different issue, as is described in the ethics section of this wiki. Safety (or risk) itself is not really a problem for our team in a scientific sense, but the moral obligation and distribution of responsibility is what is probably ultimately the most challenging subject relating to safety.

Generally, currently we distinguish in our project between

  • safety (while working in the lab)
  • security (while working in the lab)
  • the assessment of both.

This can relate to either new BioBricks that we made ourselves, and the old BioBricks that we got from MIT. The different opinions of the team members on these topics can be found here. The distribution of safety and security responsibilities is in a certain balance (which differs per person) between the following stakeholders:

  • iGEM organizers
  • The BSO and permit holders
  • The Delft University of Technology
  • Researchers themselves
  • Future users of the BioBricks we made (misuse)

The team deliberated on the relation between importance of the issues and the relevant responsibility of the different stakeholders, but no clear conclusions can be drawn (see Ethics discussion). This is difficult matter, and it is probably best to just follow our instincts, which generally coincide with what is written in the Code of Conducts for Dutch universities.