In a groundbreaking study, scientists from the University of Edinburgh have successfully engineered a strain of bacteria that can consume plastic bottles and convert them into useful liquids. This innovative approach offers a promising solution to the global plastic waste crisis.
Disposable plastic bottles, which contribute to mountains of waste each day, can now be upcycled with the help of the engineered E. coli bacteria. The bacteria has been modified to metabolize polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the main component of plastic bottles, and convert it into adipic acid. Adipic acid is widely used in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and fragrance industries.
Traditionally, the production of adipic acid is an energy-intensive process dependent on fossil fuels. However, this new bacterial solution presents a sustainable alternative, utilizing waste carbon from existing industrial processes and promoting circular economies. By converting plastic waste into valuable small molecules, this technology avoids the environmental consequences of landfill or incineration.
The research builds upon previous studies exploring the use of bacteria to degrade petro-based plastic polymers. The University of Edinburgh's team successfully transformed terephthalic acid, derived from PET, into muconic acid and further into adipic acid. Up to 79% of the terephthalic acid was converted into adipic acid, showcasing the efficiency of the engineered bacteria.
This breakthrough marks a significant step towards tackling the plastic waste problem and advancing sustainable practices. By harnessing the power of microbes, scientists are paving the way for a more environmentally friendly approach to waste management. The next challenge lies in scaling up the process and exploring the production of higher-value products through similar bio-upcycling methods.