As well known to all, safety is of vital importance to any scientific project, which can not only protect us from any harmful factors when doing the experiment, but can also guarantee our project BREAC’s smooth progress as well as the accuracy and reliability of the final result. Since we are undergraduate scientists, strictly following the rules and taking lab training in advance are highly required in order to avoid any unnecessary accidents.
All our wet lab experiments were done in the building East12 (E12) of the Faculty of Health Science, at the University of Macau. We worked under biosafety level 1 space with open bench and biosafety level 2 space in a class 1 biosafety cabinet. We also shared the incubator, shaker, centrifuge, and fridges with other labs.
Figure 1: Research Building North22
Chassis organism & Enzyme choosing
Since our project BREAC is aim to construct a controllable microorganism in order to improve the aquatic environment by tracking and degrading the harmful biofilm once it is applied in the tank of aquarium, the chassis we choose should be harmless or at least can be easily handled. Thus, we plan to use E. coli BL21, a widely used E. coli strain, to be the carrier. For degrading biofilms, we choose 3 different enzymes, DspB, protease K and DNase TA.
Escherichia Coli is a very commonly used bacteria in the laboratory for researching, editing or other experimental modifying. Normally, it is quite safe if we handle it properly, but the strain may pose health risks like diarrhea only if we accidentlly ingest a large quantity of the chassis. To prevent any infection due to our sample, wearing proper personal protective equipment is highly required such as gloves, goggles, lab coat; can prevent any possible bacterial infection to our skin. Working in the place without adequate ventilation, inhalation may also cause potential health problem.
The Supervising System
In order to protect both mental and physical health, our institution requires all laboratories to strictly obey the Lab Safety Rules and Guidelines under Research Services and Knowledge Transfer Office (RSKTO) and Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Office of the University of Macau. Moreover, an administrative body has been well established to check regularly if we still meet the rules. And because of COVID-19, more rules such as the number limitation in the lab and social distance requirement etc. have been set up to guarantee our wet lab members’ safety.
For our iGEM team, all of our lab activities are supervised and guided by PhD students and lab staffs. They are quite familiar in how to handle the bacterial experiment and always aware us to follow the safety guidelines while working. What’s more, they supervised us all the time to ensure that we follow the protocols correctly and inspired us if there’s any part of the experiment can be improved. With their great help, we gained great amount of precious experimental experience and minimized the possibility of accidents that may happen during our lab work.
Training and Guidance
According to the biosafety guidelines, lab members must be well trained and educated before they start any experiment. According to our iGEM project, there are 2 aspects that we have to pay more attention.
First, we should be familiar with the properties or characteristics of the chemicals and biological samples we are going to use or disposing. Chemical or biological hazard may harm us if we are exposed or directly have contact with them. Even if we are well trained, it is better to not work alone, we have asked PhD or lab staff, who are more experienced, for supervision and help. What’s more, the protocol should be carefully designed at very beginning, a well-organized experiment is also the key to prevent any potential accident.
Second, we should be aware of the importance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Gloves, goggles, lab coat, mask, close-toe shoes, etc. These equipment play the most critical role in protecting us from both chemical and biological hazards. All the members who need to work in the lab must be very familiar with PPE and know how to protect themselves, using PPE to avoid any possible direct or indirect contact with harmful substances. Finally, gloves should be never taken out of the lab and hands must be well-cleaned after every experiment.
Laboratory members should also familiarize themselves with other lab guidelines such as Laboratory Work Areas, Biosafety Management, etc. First aid for any emergency situation should always be well-prepared. Along with that health and medical surveillance should be applied on our wet lab members especially during this special period because of COVID-19.
Procedures for handling and disposal of waste were enacted based on the National and International Regulations. In order to guarantee that contaminated materials or wastes are processed accordingly, laboratory biosafety officers of our university heavily supervise each operation done by our team.