Safety is of utmost importance in a laboratory work setting. Our main safety priorities include ensuring personal safety, biosafety, and proper management of hazardous chemicals. We follow closely all rules and regulations regarding the use of genetically engineered organisms in Finland and other guidelines set by the University of Turku.
We follow all general laboratory practices and precautions. We use appropriate personal protective gear, which includes nitrile gloves, lab coats, and safety goggles depending on the task. Eating or drinking is not allowed in the lab space. Long hair should be tied in a ponytail or a bun. We wash our hands regularly. Contact lenses are not allowed in the laboratory to minimize further damage in case of eye exposure to a harmful chemical. Everyone who visited our lab space was also made to follow these safety protocols.
No one is allowed to work in the lab without going through an orientation and safety training which was given to us by the Senior Laboratory Technician Anniina Lepistö at the department of Molecular Plant Biology before the beginning of the laboratory work. This, as well as information acquired during our studies, minimizes the occurrence of lab injuries and common accidents. Our lab space has been equipped with the essential first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, eyewash station and an emergency shower. All work with sensitive and hazardous chemicals has to be done in a fume hood or a laminar hood to maintain a sterile and controlled environment. (Fig.1).
Our laboratory has a waste management system that we must use. All bacterial waste and everything that has been in contact with bacteria or antibiotics (growth medium, pipette tips, etc.) will be disposed of following PharmaCity laboratory guidelines and national GMO legislation. We consulted the laboratory supervisor Ph. D Mika Keränen about waste handling and proper safety measures as well as about working with methylmercury and mercuric(II)chloride.
All institutions in Finland working with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have to have a GMO permit which includes comprehensive safety and emergency plans. For the cloning of our genetic constructs, we are using only non-pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) and cyanobacterial strains normally used in laboratory settings. The inactivation of all biological material is ensured by autoclaving all S1 waste and consequent safe disposal. All hazardous chemicals and organisms used in the project are disposed of properly following the waste handling guidelines set by the Department of Technology.
The release of GMOs into the environment raises substantial biosafety concerns and discussions amongst
stakeholders. For example GMOs can disrupt ecosystems by outcompeting the native species or altering the
genetic makeup by spreading to non-GMO populations. This can lead to unforeseen consequences due to genetic
modifications which can have far-reaching consequences for biodiversity and ecological stability. The
long-term effects of GMO releases remain uncertain, making responsible deployment and monitoring vital.
Our project prioritizes the responsible use of GMOs which is why we are not releasing our modified Synechocystis strains into the environment. The system we envisioned is a photobioreactor in a closed and controlled environment. We recognise the importance of considering physical, chemical and biological biocontamination methods.
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Before conducting any activities outside of laboratory containment an approval from the biosafety committee is needed. We would need to be informed and closely follow all national rules regarding the handling, transport, and release of GMOs. More testing would have to be done on mercury removal efficiency and genetic stability of the modified strains. There also should be a toxicity evaluation and an environmental impact assessment to establish correct monitoring protocols.
Hazardous chemicals: Dealing with methylmercury and mercuric(II)chloride
If hazardous chemicals are not handled properly using the correct safety guidelines there is a risk of one being exposed to these harmful substances. We have printed out safety data sheets (SDS) for all the harmful chemicals we are using to be readily available on a short notice. Both methylmercury and mercuric(II)chloride are highly toxic substances. They can cause severe health effects if not handled properly, including neurological damage and organ dysfunction. There is a risk of contamination if proper aseptic techniques are not followed during handling and culturing of the organisms
We consulted the iGEM committee and the laboratory supervisor Ph. D Mika Keränen to inquire about the specific
safety measures we need to take regarding the use of methylmercury and mercuric(II)chloride. We have a
Spilfyter™ Mercury Spill Cleanup Kit in case of accidents during the handling of mercury. Since these
chemicals are extremely toxic, contact with it must be avoided by wearing tough protective gloves, safety
glasses and a lab coat. The amount used is small so exposure is quite unlikely when working in a fume hood
with appropriate protective clothing. We have arranged a fume hood to only be used in our experiments.
Methylmercury and mercuric(II)chloride will only be used in the smallest amounts possible to carry out the analyses. Every group member will be informed about the risks and told how to avoid them. We will also make sure that everyone working in the department is aware of when and what experiments we are conducting. If methylmercury or mercuric(II)chloride is swallowed, on skin or inhaled, the poison center or a doctor must be called. We have printed out important contacts and other safety protocols that might be needed. In case of skin contact, all contaminated clothing has to be taken off and skin must be rinsed with water. If the chemical gets into the eyes, they have to be rinsed carefully with water for several minutes