Our approach to working safely and responsibly in the laboratory was a primary subject in our project planning. To avoid complications with safety and security as much as possible, we took certain precautionary measures, such as using safer DNA-staining alternatives to ethidium bromide and practicing our cloning work on an organism from the whitelist provided by iGEM. As our non-pathogenic chassis, we chose NEB® 5-alpha Competent Escherichia coli (High Efficiency). This non-pathogenic model organism, like many other E. coli strains, is common in the lab and was ideal for our cloning work due to its high transformation efficiency (1).
As we worked in two different labs, namely the Boeckler lab and the Wizenmann lab, owing to the stringent laboratory work safety regulations during the COVID-19 crisis, we had the possibility to use a lot of different equipments and take benefit of the experience of the members of both labs. Working under the supervision of technical experts in the labs, we received instructions and helpful advice, whenever required, for every equipment we used and this was emphasised as an integral point in ensuring safe and responsible work as researchers.
Because our experimental design constituted common cloning and measuring techniques in a controlled S1 environment, a “kill-switch” mechanism was not needed at this stage of our project. Although we intentionally selected parts that would not pose any direct harm to humans, animals, or plants, the implementation of such a mechanism would be crucial when upscaling to “real-life” applications. Hence, to avoid the uncontrolled spread of genetically modified organisms in the environment.
The current COVID-19 situation demanded an even more responsible approach to lab work than usual. We were careful to always use surgical masks, keep a minimum distance of 1.5m from each other, and to never cross the maximum occupancy limits of a given laboratory space, despite the heavy workload implicit in our project goals. Although the unpredictability of available laboratory time and space raised many challenges, we were able to work in a safe and secure manner and made the best out of our options. The members of both labs we worked in, supported us in abiding by the COVID-19 lab safety guidelines at all times. A special thanks to them for coping with us during the wet lab journey of project PacMn.