Safety/Environmental Samples

Environmental Samples

More and more teams are working with samples from the environment (such as soil or water samples), the food industry (such as meat or blood from a butchers) or other non-traditional suppliers (including samples from team members). iGEM is keen to ensure that teams work with these samples safely and securely. Materials commonly available inside the laboratory (such as cell or tissue cultures, isolated biological agents, or laboratory bred animals) will have had any risks assessed by someone else, such as supervisors, or institutional biosafety officers. Teams will need to think about possible risks from other types of samples.


Samples from people - even members of your team - are covered by iGEM's policy on human experimentation. Samples from vertebrates (e.g. rats, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters), or higher order invertebrates (e.g. cuttlefish, octopus, squid, lobster) - are covered by iGEM's policy on animal use.

You will need to think carefully about potential pathogens in your samples. Most of the biological materials you come into contact with in a lab have been certified to pathogen free (or the pathogens identified and appropriate risk management measures determined). Samples brought into the lab from outside could include pathogens, toxins or other risks to you, your colleagues, communities or the environment.

  • There could be safety risks - for example there are common pathogens that can infect both animals and humans (zoonotic agents). Samples from animals, including those butchers, might contain pathogens that could make you sick.

  • There could also be security risks - many pathogens controlled because of their potential for misuse (such as those on export control lists, Select Agents in the US, or Schedule 5 agents in the UK) can also be found in nature. For example, a soil sample might include spores from Bacillus anthracis It is possible that an environmental sample includes pathogens that would require you to take specific security precautions.

In general, iGEM teams should assume samples from the environment, food industry or other non-traditional suppliers could include pathogens. As a result, they may not be on iGEM's White List and teams planning to use them may need permission from the Safety and Security Committee. A Check-In Form may need to be submitted before using these samples. Teams should pay particular attention to explaining the measures, procedures and practices they are using to identify any risks from the samples and how these risks are being managed.