Our Team and COVID-19:
We recognise safety to be as of the upmost importance. Our iGEM recruitment occurred in December and was completed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. We commenced our team meetings from February and at this time, our project ideas were being cultivated and we began planning for our laboratory-based iGEM project for the summer of 2020. By the start of March, prior to the U.K. lockdown which was introduced on the 16 March 2020, our team was considering the safety of our team members at a time when cases of COVID-19 were rising in London. We introduced an option for all team members to join our iGEM meetings virtually, in order to remove iGEM as a reason that our team members were commuting into our campus in the centre of the city. This was incorporated into our group with the health of our team in mind, especially those who have health conditions which make them vulnerable or live with others who do. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team was unable to gain laboratory access in the summer and instead tailored our iGEM project to be undertaken remotely, with our team members returning home to 8 different countries.
Evaluating our Designed Project:
Our project has been centred around designing our approach to tackle spinal cord injury utilising a 3D bioprinted scaffold coated with a recombinant mussel foot protein bioadhesive. Whilst we have designed our approach, including the designing of experiments and protocols, we have been unable to gain access to a laboratory for phase I of our project, there are no risks associated with a laboratory-based project. We intend to continue and undertake a laboratory-based phase II Renervate project in 2021 and we have therefore given consideration to how we aim to accomplish this in the second phase of our project.
For phase II of our project, we intend to transform the BL21(DE3) Competent E. coli with expression vectors containing the MFP sequences together with the sequence for mTyr-CNK tyrosinase enzyme (BBa_K3089006). The double-transformation facilitates the polymerisation and modification of residues on the MFPs in vivo. In the system we have designed, the mussel foot protein will be polymerised in situ, which we will then extract and purify the polymerised MFP-based bioadhesive. We have ensured our chosen organism is categorised as requiring only the Biological Safety Level One (BSL-1) containment and that the chosen organism is a well-characterized microbiological organisms not known to consistently cause disease in immunocompetent adult humans. BL21(DE3) Competent E. coli presents minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment. We have conducted thorough literature research and we found that BL21(DE3) Competent E. coli has been shown to not cause any effects on animals, plants or micro-organisms, support the low risk nature of the project.
Ensuring Good Laboratory Practises:
We will ensure to utilise good laboratory practises after undergoing relevant laboratory safety training. As we intent to work with risk group 1 organisms, we would adhere to the biosafety protocols relating to this group. These safety measures include:
- Wearing a lab coat, goggles and gloves at all times
- Not drinking of eating in the laboratory
- No computers, phones or tablets in the laboratory workspace
- Using mechanical, not manual pipettes
- Cleaning all workspaces before and after use with 70% ethanol
- Disposing of sharp objects including pipette tips in the correct specialised container
- Ensuring the appropriate storage of flammable, toxic and hazardous material
- Autoclaving relevant equipment
- Ensuring any material that comes into contact with biological parts is disposed of into the current specialised container destined for incineration
- Ensuring the laboratory has the correct equipment needed for emergencies including an eye wash station, first aid kit, a fire blanket and a fire extinguisher
Next year, we will conduct further thorough research prior to completing our safety form for our 2021 project.