What is the main innovation synthetic microbial strains will bring?
The concept of synthetic bacteria is increasingly attractive as we can artificially create a biocatalyst that can perform multiple desired functions. At Bioplastech, we strongly believe synthetic bacteria will make a huge contribution to the circular and bio-based economy. For example, considering plastic pollution, natural bacteria cannot normally use man-made plastic as a carbon source as it lacks the machinery to break down the plastic backbone. Synthetic biology tools could be applied first to build a microbial cell factory with artificial pathways which can degrade plastic waste into simple compounds and a second synthetic microbial factory could convert these plastic degradation products into a highly valuable product. At Bioplastech, we have developed different bioprocesses utilizing natural and synthetic microbial factories to produce various types of bioplastics and their monomers. We have developed processes to convert degradation products of non-biodegradable plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polystyrene (PS) into biodegradable plastic generally known as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PHAs are fully biodegradable elastomers, ideal for commodity and packaging applications. They can also be used in their pure form for medical devices or as blends or additives to enhance the flexibility and strength of other polymers. Thus, by using synthetic microbial factories we are reducing the levels of harmful environmental plastic pollutants and creating high-value products that enable us to improve health, environment, and quality of life.
How Bioplastech is planning to overcome the risks?
It will certainly be challenging to bring the technology of upcycling waste plastic to biodegradable plastic using synthetic bacteria to the industrial scale in a short time. Plastic degradation would give rise to a mix of compounds, some of them may be toxic to bacteria or not preferred by bacteria and this could affect the efficiency of the bioprocess to make valuable products such as biopolymers. However, Bioplastech has extensive experience in defining, evolving, and realizing processes at lab and pilot scales with high product titres and high volumetric productivity. Bioplastech has a highly skilled team of scientists who have expertise in microbial biotechnology, synthetic biology, and fermentation technology which enable us to develop feed strategies, alter process control parameters, and engineer bacteria to meet specific needs. We are also collaborating with other industry and academic partners with specific know-how on plastic waste breakdown and the development of new sustainable plastic blends and packing materials. Thus, with extensive commercial experience, technical expertise, and industry collaboration Bioplastech is looking forward to increasing the rate of plastic recycling to contribute to the circular economy.