Plastic has become an integral part of our society, offering versatility and durability like no other material. However, the environmental impact of conventional plastic production and disposal has become a pressing issue. The need for sustainable alternatives has led researchers and engineers on a quest to find eco-friendly solutions that do not compromise on performance. One promising development comes from Kobe University, where bioengineers have successfully engineered bacteria to produce a plastic modifier that enhances the properties of renewably sourced plastic.

The team at Kobe University collaborated with Kaneka Corporation to tackle the challenges associated with polylactic acid, a plant-based bioplastic that is brittle and does not degrade well. By combining polylactic acid with a bioplastic called LAHB, which is known for its biodegradability and compatibility with polylactic acid, they aimed to create a material that addresses the shortcomings of traditional plastics. To achieve this, they needed to manipulate the genome of bacteria to produce the desired precursor for LAHB.

Published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, the researchers revealed their success in creating a bacterial “plastic factory” that efficiently produces chains of LAHB using glucose as a feedstock. Through genetic modifications, they were able to control the length of the LAHB chain, leading to the production of “ultra-high molecular weight LAHB.” This innovative approach resulted in a highly transparent plastic that is more moldable, shock-resistant, and biodegradable, even in seawater.

The implications of this breakthrough extend beyond the creation of a new plastic material. The engineered bacteria have the potential to utilize CO2 as a raw material, opening up possibilities for synthesizing plastics directly from greenhouse gases. This visionary approach demonstrates a step towards a more sustainable future, where plastics are no longer a burden on the environment but instead contribute to a circular economy.

The research carried out by the team at Kobe University represents a significant leap forward in the quest for sustainable plastic solutions. By harnessing the power of engineered bacteria, they have showcased the potential to revolutionize the plastic industry and pave the way for a greener tomorrow. With further developments and innovations in this field, we may soon witness a shift towards biodegradable, high-performance plastics that align with the principles of environmental sustainability.

Chemistry

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