Synthetic microbiology and metabolic engineering technologies for valorization of plastic waste into high added-value products and fine chemicals
As a result of the extensive use of plastic by our society, its accumulation has been generating hundreds of tons of wastes, which decomposition by weathering results in microparticles production and consequent dispersion in the environment. The devastating impact that this process has on our oceans and wildlife health is immense and visible through the ongoing alteration of habitats and natural processes.
As of today, only 9% of plastic waste is ultimately recovered, however, current recycling techniques often result in lesser quality materials and economic losses. Hence, a priority of our society is to switch the traditional linear economic model based on a take-make-consume-throw away pattern, into a more sustainable circular program. In practice, ways to reduce wastes to a minimum and extend a product’s life cycle to a maximum are indispensable and highly valued. In this context, biotechnological approaches are aimed at upcycling plastic into products which are better in quality compared to the starting material, thereby generating further value. It follows that post-consumer plastic waste is not considered as undesired and problematic garbage, but it is seen from a completely different point of view as a carbon-rich, low-cost, and globally available feedstock, which can first be degraded into monomers that are then used as a nutrient source by different microorganisms.
Taking into consideration that plastics are large hydrophobic polymers, a system that successfully expresses and secretes hydrolyzing enzymes is required for an efficient depolymerization. At the laboratories of The Protein Factory 2.0, we envision that innovative synthetic microbiology and metabolic engineering technologies will enable microbes to further convert the so-obtained monomers into high added-value products and fine chemicals. The resulting engineered strain is defined as a whole-cell biocatalyst which application has increased in recent years thanks to the worthwhile possibility to simultaneously allow the growth of the microorganism, the expression of recombinant proteins, and the transformation of post-consumer plastic waste feedstock into valuable final compounds in a one-pot process.