Biotech Updates

GM Bacteria to Fight Ocean Pollution by Breaking Down Plastics in Saltwater

September 20, 2023

Researchers from North Carolina State University have successfully engineered a marine microorganism that can break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a highly recyclable plastic that is a major contributor to plastic pollution in the ocean.

The researchers worked with two species of bacterium, Vibrio natriegens and Ideonella sakaiensis in conducting the experiment. A sequence of DNA from I. sakaiensis that is responsible for the production of enzymes that can break down PET was taken and incorporated into a plasmid, genetic sequences that can replicate in a cell.

The plasmid containing the I. sakaiensis genes is then introduced into the V. natriegens bacteria, a bacterium that thrives and reproduces quickly in saltwater. Results of the study show that the genetically engineered V. natriegens was able to break down PET in a saltwater setting.

Nathan Crook, the corresponding author, says that this is the first time that V. natriegens was able to express foreign enzymes on its cell surface. Similarly, Tianyu Li, the first author of the paper, says that this is also the first genetically engineered organism to break down PET microplastics in saltwater. With the promising findings of the study, genetic engineering has the potential to mitigate the issue of plastic accumulation in saltwater environments.

For more information, read the article from AIChE Journal.

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