Genspace is committed to providing a safe environment for all of our members and guests. Our facility meets the National Institutes of Health Biosafety Level One (BSL1) requirements. Experiments are carried out with strictly non-pathogenic organisms and we employ professional contractors for biological and hazardous waste disposal.
Safety Advisory Board
We have an external advisory board of distinguished academic, government
and industry professionals available to answer any safety
questions. They also help guide us as to whether certain projects are
appropriate for a Biosafety Level One environment, adhere to NIH
recombinant DNA guidelines, and to minimize the use of hazardous
reagents such as flammables.
Dana Perkins, Ph.D., Senior
Science Advisor, Policy & Planning, with the Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Preparedness and Response U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS)
Claudia Mickelson, Ph.D., Deputy
Director of MIT Environmental Health & Safety Office, former
Chairperson of the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC)
Natalie Kuldell, Ph.D., Instructor of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Biological Engineering
Ethan Signer, Ph.D.,
Professor of Biology Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Department of Biology, and Senior Scientific Advisor, CHDI Foundation
George M. Church, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Director of the Center for Computational Genetics
Eshel Ben Jacob, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, Tel Aviv University, Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy
Douglas Ridgway, Ph.D., Research Associate, Dept. of Biochemistry, University of Alberta
Michael Ellison, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry, University of Alberta
Christopher E. Mason, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Computational Genomics, Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University
What sorts of organisms do you work with?
We strictly utilize only non-pathogenic organisms in all of our experiments. These organisms are by definition harmless and do not normally cause disease in either humans or animals. Examples of non-pathogenic organisms used are bacteria such as E. coli strain K-12 derivatives. We currently also use C. elegans, a tiny soil-dwelling nematode or worm, naturally-occurring strains of slime molds, the soil bacterium P. vortex and bovine chondrocytes, which are cow cells that generate cartilage.
Why are E. coli K-12 strains considered harmless?
E. coli K-12 derived strains are all genetically debilitated to the point of being incapable of either colonizing a human host or producing any toxins. These strains have been used widely for decades and have never been documented to cause any disease in humans. This is in direct contrast to naturally occurring "wildtype" strains of E. coli, a few of which can be toxic to humans.
Further information on the safety of K-12 strains can be found here:EPA K-12 Risk Assessment
Does Genspace culture human cells?
Currently we do not plan on working with cultured human cells. Although technically speaking, human cell lines are non-pathogenic, there is still some minimal risk that a human cell line or primary cells may inadvertently serve as a host to a human pathogen, such as a virus. Therefore most institutions classify them as Biosafety Level 2 and handle them in a BSL2 laminar flow hood, which Genspace does not possess.
Can I design an experiment using another organism?
Certainly! There are many acceptable organism to use at Genspace, as long as they are non-pathogenic, aren't a mammal or other large animal, such as reptiles and birds, and don't take up too much room. For example, some of our newer members are planning experiments with bamboo plants. Our staff and advisory board are on hand to help you out with any safety questions regarding experimental design.
What sort of recombinant DNA molecules do you work with?
We work with a wide variety of commercially available, published and member-designed DNA sequences in our genetic engineering experiments. No DNA sequences are used in our experiments that are known or are even suspected to confer any sort of pathogenic trait to a recombinant organism.
The NIH guidelines for research involving recombinant DNA molecules can be found here:
How is biological waste disposed of in your laboratory?
We hire a commercial waste disposal service to deliver us empty bins and pick up our full bins for disposal. Into these bins we deposit items such as solid growth media containing recombinant bacteria derived from E. coli strain K-12 and consumable laboratory plastic wares. Any liquid media containing bacteria is first treated with a 10% bleach solution prior to disposal.
Does that mean that the material is "biohazardous"?
Not necessarily. In our case it means that we err on the side of safety and dispose of our wastes according to the procedures recommended for BSL1 laboratories. Although it is perfectly acceptable practice to clean up using bleach alone, it is less messy, smelly, and more convenient to use the disposal service.
What sort of safety equipment is provided in your laboratory?
We provide disposable nitrile and latex gloves, along with laboratory coats and safety goggles. However, no equipment can take the place of safe behavior and proper laboratory techniques.
Is this safety equipment really required?
Regardless of how "safe" a particular organism or experiment is, it is good laboratory practice to adhere to standard safety protocols adopted by all well run laboratories. This is a habit that will be very useful if and when you go on to work in a university or industry laboratory that may be dealing with substances or organisms that are rated at a higher (i.e. BSL2+) safety level.
What does your safety training for new members consist of?
We provide a tour of our facility and familiarize our members in the proper use of common laboratory equipment, such as centrifuges and power supplies. We also familiarize new members with the locations and usage of our building exits and general safety equipment , i.e. fire extinguishers, eye-wash stations and first aid kit. This is followed by a formal training session of about 2 hours on safe laboratory practice (general, chemical and biological).
What exactly are "Biosafety levels"?
There are four biosafety levels (BSL) as defined by the National Institutes of Health. They are the recommended standards that a laboratory must adopt in order to work safely with a certain category of organisms. The lowest safety level is BSL1. Here only non-pathogenic organisms are used in experiments. The minimal recommendations for a laboratory to meet BSL1 standards include an enclosed space with non-absorbent counters and floors, the presence of a sink for hand washing within the laboratory, using proper laboratory techniques and prohibiting food and drink within the laboratory area.
All full description of all biosafety levels and general biosafety may be found here:
What Biosafety level is Genspace?
We designed and built the laboratories of Genspace to be in accordance with the NIH recommended guidelines for BSL1 facilities.
Do you have an advisory board?
We have an external Advisory Board
of distinguished academic, government and industry professionals available to answer any safety- related questions. They also help guide us as to whether certain projects are appropriate for a Biosafety Level One environment, adhere to NIH recombinant DNA guidelines, and to minimize the use of hazardous reagents such as flammables.