Research Students Develop A Bacteria That Eats Plastic And Turns It Into Water

Research Students Develop A Bacteria That Eats Plastic And Turns It Into Water

Amid the problems caused due to the extensive usage of single-use plastic, two research students have chemically engineered bacteria that can solve this world crisis!

Among various environmental issues that our planet is facing at the moment, the extensive usage of single-use plastic tops the list. Despite constant warnings and requests from experts, people just seem to turn a deaf ear to them.

Amidst such oblivious reactions came up two Vancouver students who made it their life mission to help reverse the harmful effect of plastic for good. 24-year-old Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao have been working towards "upcycling" plastic pollution and converting this non-biodegradable into "valuable biosurfactants for the textile industry" and "valuable compounds for textiles."



When the duo was in grade 12, they discovered a species of bacteria that could breakdown plastic in the Fraser River. After extensive research, they found that this bacteria mainly focused on consuming phthalates, a fossil fuel-based additive and carcinogen which is generally found in plastics.

They consulted professor Lindsay Eltis of the University of British Columbia and with her help isolated 14 different strains of bacteria that they had obtained from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary and the Vancouver Landfill. The next step was to chemically engineer these micro-organisms in such a way that they thrive on a phthalate-enriched diet. 



Fortunately, they discovered this process of targeting one particular chemical in the presence of many was indeed possible. This inspired them to use this formula towards the betterment of the environment and hopefully ridding it of the major pollution source.

Following this discovery, the pair got themselves an invitation to discuss their findings at a TED conference which was held in California, back in 2013. Here, Wang took the stage and shared how, she accompanied by Yao and three other friends, were now progressively working on breaking down a much more tough strain of plastic. 



Their main focus was on polystyrene, which showed no possibility of being recycled. The two founded their own company, BioCellection, that mainly concentrated at finding a significant solution for the growing problem of plastic.

During her speech, Wang also noted how her company was using genetically modified bacteria in order to dissolve this packaging polymer and converting them into carbon dioxide and water, according to the Vancouver Sun. She also mentioned another technology that would turn plastic into valuable components that could easily be used as a material in the textile industry.  "Our technology is the first in the world that can break down plastics at a scalable industrial level," said Wang."


In addition to this, Wharton School praised their company's work and awarded them five awards. They also announced that BioCellection was the first company in the history of the Wharton Business Plan Competition to have won five prizes.

While Yao graduated from the University of Toronto along with another member of the team, Daniel Chapman, Wang completed her course with two remaining members from the University of Pennsylvania. 


Apart from this prestigious award from Wharton, the team also won the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize, the $10,000 Gloeckner Undergraduate Award, $10,000 Wharton Social Impact Prize, the  $1,000 Committee Award for Most ‘Wow Factor,’ and the $3,000 Michelson People’s Choice Award.

The crew had also won prize money of $36,000 by competing in other universities. "We’ve basically won every competition on the campus," said Wang.



If you take a look at their website, it properly explains the technology they use to covert this non-biodegradable material into an environmentally friendly one.

It reads: "BioCellection’s conversion technology involves the chemical breakdown of plastic polymers, such as polystyrene and post-consumer film, into organic compounds, followed by biological conversion into valuable products. BioCellection upcycles unrecyclable plastic waste into valuable compound rhamnolipid for textiles using genetically engineered bacteria."



"It happens in a two-step process that tackles plastic pollution one plastic at a time. By coupling chemistry and synthetic biology, Biocellection creates a novel process that breaks down plastic into usable building blocks that are then turned into other valuable materials," it continues with the step.

They also stress on the fact that "97% of post-consumer and 79% of post-industrial plastic films end up in landfills and oceans" and that's why their focus is on "solving the plastic film challenge first."


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