iGEM Concordia 2014

Our Organisms and Safety

We are using multiple strains of green algae, which are biosafety level 1/ risk group 1 and have low individual & community risk. Thus, the organisms we chose to work with have the convenience for being genetically engineered in that they are unlikely to cause disease in healthy individuals and also pose minimal risk to those working in the laboratory.

The organisms we chose to work with are all green microalgae. These include: Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Chlorella vulgaris, Chlorella kessleri, Chlorella saccharophila, and Chlorella ellipsoidea. The main organisms we chose to focus of on were C. vulgaris, an edible green algae species, sold over the counter for a long list of possible health functions, C. kessleri, and C. reinhardtii. With proper waste disposal and safe lab practices, our genetically engineered organisms pose very low risk to the health of lab workers, the public and the environment.


All members of the Concordia iGEM team involved in laboratory work for the project attended and acquired two trainings, Introduction to Biosafety & WHMIS.

Introduction to Biosafety is offered by the university to review the following topics concerning general safety in a Biology laboratory environment: safety awareness, risk & risk assessment, types of containment & level, safety equipment (including PPE), safe lab practices & techniques, biohazardous materials & waste management, policies, regulations & guidelines pertaining to Government of Canada & Concordia University, handling infectious substances,lab equipment, decontamination, autoclaves, emergencies, reporting incidents, and Biosecurity.

Our second training, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), required by all personel working in a laboratory at Concordia University, covered all classes of hazardous materials: compressed gases(A), Flammable and combustible materials (B), oxidizing materials (C), materials causing immediate and serious toxic effects (D1), materials causing other toxic effects (D2), Biohazardous infectious materials (D3), corrosive materials (E), dangerously reactive materials (F). In addition, the training included all preventative measures, storage, emergency responses, containment etc, for each hazard.

Risks & Future Risks to Project

Environmental Risks

If we do not follow our safety trainings (Intro to Biosafety and WHMIS) to dispose of all our cultures responsibly, then this could potentially result in contaminated water supplies. Although this is unlikely, it is possible that if our organisms escaped into surrounding bodies of water, an algal bloom could potentially result. Algal blooms result in rapid increases in bacterial growth, and subsequent deoxygenation of the water, which would negatively impact plant & animal life. However, algal blooms of this magnitude and effect do not involve large amounts of chlamydomonas reinhardtii and chlorella strains of microalgae. In fact, most algal blooms are caused by dinoflagellates primarily, and certain algal species that do not include green algae. In addition, our microalgae are not known to be toxic (chlorella is known as a food supplement available in many health stores in the US).

General Public

Ingesting any of our biomaterials would be hazardous to general health of the public. Although, people normally avoid ingesting water that's green or unfiltered by their municipality, there is still a risk of ingesting algae during recreational activities involving water that was exposed to a toxic algae bloom. Little is known about toxic algae blooms or why they get produced. It can be that a certain set of environmental conditions allows a strain to develop into a toxic bloom or plasmid mediated gene transfer. There is also a possible risk to humans ingesting fish & animals that came from contaminated waters caused by the accumulation of toxins in the food chain.


In addition, if the methods of genetically engineering green algae species became widely available, it's possible that research may lead to modifying these organisms or other closely related microalgae with toxic genes. Microalgae becoming more popular as a research subject would mean water contamination would be at a higher risk. Although current outbreaks involving green microalgae in research has a grand total of 0 occurrences, we cannot assume that will always stay the same. Preventative measures should include encouraging others to do science responsibly, and follow appropriate safety protocols, such as WHMIS.

Safety Form

You can find our submitted iGEM Safety Form here.

Safety Links

Canadian Biosafety Standards

Biosafety @ Concordia

Hazardous Waste Management @ Concordia

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