Safety Hub


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Questions or feedback?
Email safety AT igem DOT org!
This page is the central hub for information about safety in iGEM 2014. From the sidebar on the left, you can access all pages related to safety for the 2014 competition.
We are developing and improving iGEM's safety practices each year. The guidelines and forms are different from last year, so please read carefully!!


Beginning of Summer →

  • Start by reading this page and learning about safety in iGEM. If you have any questions, please contact us!
  • Until the Jamboree: Complete Check-Ins and receive approval before acquiring and using certain materials in your lab. You must Check-In for any organism or part that is not on the White List.
  • By June 23: Submit the About Our Lab form.
  • By July 21: Submit the Preliminary Version of the Safety Form.
  • During summer: Participate in Virtual Open Office Hours to ask questions and discuss safety topics.
  • By September 1: Submit the Final Version of the Safety Form.
  • By October 1: Submit any necessary Check-Ins for materials that you used before the Check-In form was available.

→ Wiki Freeze & Giant Jamboree!

Welcome to the Safety Hub! My name is Kelly, and I'm here to help you with any questions or problems you might have about safety in iGEM.
(I also like to talk about Policy & Practices!)

You can contact me by email (safety AT igem DOT org), Skype text chat (kelly_igem), or Twitter (@Kelly_iGEM).

The next Virtual Open Office Hours are on Monday, September 29!


First of all, you are responsible for your own safety. Throughout your project, and after we approve any of your forms, you are responsible for living up to the trust we have placed in you to handle potentially dangerous materials safely. Good judgment and proper practices are always necessary. The Safety Committee is here to help you, and to teach you to help yourself.

This year, there are three main tasks you should do: the About Our Lab form, the Check-Ins, and the Safety Form.

Keep us up to date  !

If your project changes, you can always submit a new version of any form, even after the deadlines.

We encourage you to update your forms if there are significant changes to your project.

  • The About Our Lab form is short and easy. It is due on Monday, June 23, near the beginning of summer.
  • Check-Ins are also short and easy. You must complete Check-Ins for certain materials before you acquire or use them in your lab. For materials you have already used in 2014, please complete any Check-Ins by October 1. We expect to reply to most Check-Ins within a few days, so your work should not be unduly delayed.
  • The Safety Form is longer. Complete a Preliminary Version of the Safety Form by Monday, July 21 (answer as many questions as you can, and leave blank the questions you cannot answer yet). The final version of the Safety Form is due at the end of summer, September 1.

The Requirements section, below, gives more details about each form. You can visit the forms by clicking on the links on the left side of this page. Note: At this time, we are still developing the software behind the forms, so you can view the questions but you cannot write answers or submit forms yet.

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About-Our-Lab Form

Complete the form here

The About-Our-Lab form is four questions about your lab facilities and safety practices. Every team should complete an About-Our-Lab form. It is due on Monday, June 23, 2014, and it should take much less than one hour to complete.

If you are still searching for a lab space for the summer, and you will not be able to complete the About Our Lab form before the deadline, just email us before June 23 (safety AT igem DOT org), and tell us about your situation.


Complete the form here

X   Banned Organisms/Parts   X

Some of the most dangerous organisms and parts are not allowed in iGEM, even with a Check-In:

  • Whole organisms from Risk Group 3
  • Whole organisms from Risk Group 4
  • Parts from Risk Group 4 organisms

If you find that you want to use a banned organism/part, you should redesign your project to use a substitute from a safer Risk Group. Consult your advisor or contact us at to get some advice on choosing a substitute.

This year, we are introducing Check-Ins. Check-Ins are a way for you to quickly and easily ask iGEM's safety experts to review your plans for safely acquiring and using a higher risk organism/part, and to approve your plans or suggest changes. Most organisms/parts in iGEM will not require a Check-In.

You should submit a Check-In before you acquire or use certain materials in your lab. Specifically, you should send us a Check-In for any organism or part that is not on the White List. We expect to reply to most Check-Ins within a few days at most.

Once the iGEM Safety Committee has approved your Check-In by email, you may begin working with the material (organism or part). You may Check-In for as many organisms/parts as you wish, and any team member may send a Check-In at any time until the Jamboree.

We understand that most teams began working before the Check-In form was published (in mid-August). You are NOT in trouble, and you do NOT need to stop working. Now that the Check-In form is ready, please submit the necessary Check-Ins by October 1 (earlier is better). In the "Further Comments" field of each Check-In, describe the work you have already done with that organism/part.

Safety Form

Complete the form here

Every team should complete a Safety Form. This form lets you show us several things:

  • That you are working responsibly in an appropriate lab.
  • That you are in contact with the biosafety authorities of your university/institution, or of your country.
  • That you are working with your advisors to ensure good lab practices.

The Safety Form also helps you think further about safety for your project as it is now, and as it might be in the future. You should complete a Preliminary Version of your safety form by July 21: answer as many questions as you can, tell us about different project ideas, and don't worry about making it perfect. Then, you should complete a Final Version of your safety form by September 1. On the Final Version, you should answer all the questions completely.

Any team members can write the Safety Form and save it as a draft. You will need an Instructor to submit the form.

Tell us about safety on your wiki!

Your blank wiki includes a "Safety" page. You can customize this page to tell everyone about the ways you're being responsible in your work!

What about non-biological safety?

This year, the iGEM safety program only covers biological safety. iGEM does not have safety policies or safety forms for hazardous chemicals (methanol, ethidium bromide, etc.), equipment (open flames, liquid nitrogen equipment, etc.), or radioactivity (radio-labeled nucleotides, etc.). Your advisors and instructors are responsible for ensuring that you work safely with any chemicals, equipment, or radioactivity that you use. Consult your instructors, your laboratory manager, or your lab safety office for help with non-biological safety.

Of course, if you have a question or concern about non-biological safety, you are welcome to ask us (safety AT igem DOT org) at any time! Similarly, we encourage you to write about these issues on your wiki.

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Ask us questions!

Email safety AT igem DOT org any time, with any questions you might have! We are friendly and available, and we will do our best to answer your questions quickly. ANY team member can ask a question, whether you are a student, a leader, or an advisor. And you should not fear that your team will suffer consequences simply because you asked us a question. If you are confused or concerned about anything related to safety, please ask!

Virtual Open Office Hours

Participate in our Virtual Open Office Hours via Skype text chat. Virtual Open Office Hours will be hosted by staff member Kelly Drinkwater (please add kelly_igem as a Skype contact).

You will need Skype to participate.

Next Office Hours:
  • Monday, September 29, at 12:00 noon EDT (UTC 16:00 on September 29), duration 1 hour
  • Monday, September 29, at 21:00 EDT (UTC 01:00 on September 30), duration 1 hour

Print Resources / Web Links

This section is under construction. If you know of a good resource, please suggest it!
  • The WHO Biosafety Manual is available in PDF format, in several languages. Official versions: English, Français, Español, Português, 中文, Русский. Unofficial translations: Italiano, 日本語, Српски / srpski, Tiếng Việt.
  • The NIH Guidelines are a set of United States rules on how to safely work with recombinant or synthetic DNA molecules.
  • The CDC has published Biosafety in Microbial and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL), a comprehensive guide to laboratory safety following U.S. regulations.

Who can answer my questions about lab safety?

iGEM HQ is a good resource for safety, but it is not the only resource. You probably have many safety experts right next door to you! For example:

  • Your faculty advisor or team leaders
  • The laboratory manager for the lab where you work
  • The safety office or Institutional Biosafety Committee at your university/institution
  • Members of your local or national government
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Risk Groups and Lab Safety Levels

Most countries classify microorganisms into four Risk Groups, according to how dangerous they are to humans. In the same way, biology laboratories are classified into four Safety Levels, based on how tightly they contain the experimental microorganisms. Usually, people working with Risk Group 1 organisms will work in a Level 1 lab, people working with Risk Group 2 organisms will work in a Level 2 lab, and so on.

Most iGEM teams work in Level 1 labs, using Risk Group 1 organisms.

Different countries have different definitions of the four Risk Groups or the four laboratory Safety Levels. The tables below are general descriptions and guidelines. They should be mostly true for most countries, but they may differ slightly from the exact rules for your country. You should consult your advisor, your lab manager, or the authorities of your university.

To learn more about Risk Groups and Lab Safety Levels, please visit the Risk Group Guide.

Risk Groups

Risk Group Danger Description Example species
1 Low risk These organisms do not cause disease in healthy adult humans. (However, they might cause disease in young children, elderly people, or people with immune system deficiencies.) E. coli K-12, Bacillus subtilis
2 Moderate risk These organisms cause disease to humans, but the disease is treatable and preventable. These organisms are unlikely to present a serious hazard to public health or the environment. Listeria, Salmonella, Herpes virus. (Also, many cell lines such as HeLa contain Risk Group 2 viruses.)
3 High risk These organisms cause serious disease in humans. Effective treatments and vaccinations are available. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, West Nile Virus, Hanta virus, Yersinia pestis (black plague)
4 Extreme risk These organisms cause serious or deadly disease in humans, and they can be easily transmitted from person to person. Treatments and vaccinations are NOT available. Ebola virus, Marburg virus

Laboratory Safety Levels

Level 1: The most basic safety procedures. Work is done on open benches, and workers wear basic protective equipment like rubber gloves.
Level 2: Moderate safety procedures. Some work can be done on open bench tops, but any work that might generate aerosols or splashes is done in biosafety cabinets. Workers might wear additional protective equipment, beyond rubber gloves and lab coats.
Level 3: Strong safety procedures. Work is often done in closed-front biosafety cabinets ("glove boxes"). Alternatively, workers might use an open-front biosafety cabinet (as in Level 2), and wear extra protective equipment, such as face shields, respirators, or suits that cover the whole body.
Level 4: Maximum safety procedures. Labs have airlocks for entry and exit, and workers take decontaminating showers. Inside the lab, workers wear "space suits" that isolate the whole body, supply clean air to breathe, and maintain air pressure to stop any stray particles from entering.

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To learn about biological risk assessment and responsible research, you can watch the two videos below.

These two videos were made available through SynBERC. Videos produced by Terry D. Johnson, based on slides by J. Christopher Anderson, both of UC Berkeley Bioengineering.

Transcripts of the two videos will be available soon.

What Would YOU Do? Safety Scenarios

This section is under construction. We are building a "choose your own adventure" tool that you can use to explore different biosafety scenarios.
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Who is the iGEM Safety Committee?

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Your Responsibility

The iGEM Safety Committee is not a substitute for the biosafety regulations of your country, or for the lab safety guidelines of your university. You and your advisors are responsible for working safely in the laboratory, and for ensuring that your project complies with local laws and university/institutional guidelines. By approving your forms (About Our Lab form, Check-Ins, Safety Form), the iGEM Safety Committee is only affirming that your team has permission to participate in iGEM. We cannot certify that your project is completely safe (even "safe" organisms, like E. coli K-12, can present some risks!). Likewise, we cannot certify that your project is in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations of your university/institution, local government, national government, and/or international treaties.

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