To ensure the health of the laboratory workers, safety is the highest priority. To guarantee safety, we received a safety briefing before we started our work in the lab. In addition, we took some preventive measures against COVID-19 and took general safety precautions. We also addressed the issue of whether there are safety concerns with our project.
We worked in the S1 areas of the laboratory of Prof. Schwaneberg and in the S1 areas of the laboratory of Prof. Blank. In order to be allowed to work there, every team member who worked in a laboratory got a safety briefing for the S1 area. The safety briefing was carried out by an employee of Prof. Blank’s and Prof. Schwaneberg’s laboratory. S1 is the lowest safety level, where you are only allowed to work with non-hazardous substances. The safety briefing must be attended every year. In the second safety level, one is allowed to work with biological agents that can cause diseases if the risk of spreading is low. In laboratories of safety levels three or four, one is allowed to work with biological agents that can cause severe diseases and have a higher possibility of spreading.
Working in the Lab
In order to work effectively, a shift system was used to coordinate our large team. The morning shift ran from 9 am to 12:30 pm and the afternoon shift from 1:30 pm to 5 pm.
For our protection, we wore a lab coat whenever we worked in the laboratory. In addition, we wore safety goggles and protective gloves when working with acids or bases. Even though we did not use ethidium bromide to stain our gels, we always wore safety gloves in the gel electrophoresis room for extra security.
In the laboratory itself, there are also many safety installations. These include fire extinguishers, fire blankets, first aid kits, eye showers, emergency showers, electrical emergency stop switches and a fire alarm. In the safety briefing, we were taught how to use these safety installations properly in case of an emergency.
A medical mask was worn continuously while working in the laboratory. In addition, an attempt was made to work in the laboratory with as few people as possible at the same time. Also, many meetings were held online to reduce the number of face-to-face contacts.
Implementation of Our Project
In our project, we try to extract phosphate from a wastewater stream by using immobilized proteins. In the process, it might happen that some proteins detach and could be set free into the environment. However, since there are no known negative side effects for humans and the environment, this does not pose a major risk. In addition, the stability of the proteins is not particularly high. It can therefore be assumed that the proteins are not deposited anywhere in the long term. Another risk factor could be the expression of the proteins using genetically modified bacteria via genetic engineering. However, this is a standard method in biotechnology and used in many industrial applications. Moreover, only the proteins are used in the further course of the process and no genetically modified microorganisms are released into the environment.
Since our protein can be expressed in harmless S1 organisms such as E. coli, it was not necessary to use pathogenic microorganisms.
All in all, a very low risk potential can be assumed if handled responsibly.