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BacterialDerivedPlastics
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Contents
1Introduction
2Polyhydroxyalkanoates
2.1ProperConditionsforProduction
2.2KeyEnzymes
3ContemporaryResearch
3.1GramPositivevs.GramNegativeStrains
4EnvironmentalandHealthBenefits
5EconomicProspects
6References

Introduction
Scientistshavedevelopedgeneticallymodifiedbacteriathatcansynthesizeplasticpolymers("PHAs")usingorganicmaterials.PHAsareimportant
becausetheyareabiodegradableplasticsourcethatdoesnotrequirepetroleum,andisrenewable,asscientistscansynthesizetheplasticsinalab
withthecorrectmaterialsandbacterialstrains.ThePHApolymerscanbeextractedusingahostofenzymesandsolvents,andlaterrefinedinto
plasticproducts(Reemmer).

Polyhydroxyalkanoates
ProperConditionsforProduction

Polyhydroxyalkonoates(PHAs)arepolymersthatbacteriaproduceunderconditionsoflowconcentrationsofimportantnutrients(typicallynitrogen,
butsometimesoxygen)andhighconcentrationsofcarbonsources.Thisprocessoccursbecausetheexcesscarbonleadstobacteriacreatingcarbon
reserves(PHAs)tosaveforatimewithmoreplentifulnutrientsinwhichtheyneedenergytocarryoutregularfunctions(growing,reproducing,other
biosynthesisetc.).BacteriastorePHAsingranulesforlateruse.HumanscanharvestthesePHAstocreatebioplastics,asthepolymersthatbacteria
produceresemblethechemicalstructureofpetroleumproducedplastics(Gilmore).

KeyEnzymes

Throughabiochemicalprocessduringfermentation,bacterialenzymesengageacyclethatstopsproteinsynthesis
andbeginstheproductionofPHAswhenthereisahighconcentrationofacetylCoAinsidethecells,insteadof
regularCoA.Thishighconcentrationoccurswhenthebacterialcellsarestarvedofessentialnutrients(nitrogen,
oxygen,phosphorous)becausethepyruvatemoleculesdonotenteritsnormalcycle,andiscarboxylatedtoform
acetylCoA.ThethreekeyenzymesinP(3HB)(aspecificformofPHAs)productionareketothiolase,acetoacetyl
CoAreductase,andPHBreductase,successively(Fig.1).ketothiolasebeginsbycondensingtwoacetylCoA
molecules.Theseproducts(acetoacetylCoA)arereducedtohydroxyalkanoicacidsbyacetoacetylCoAreductase. Fig1.Thebiochemical
ThelaststepisaPHAsynthase(morethan50differentPHAsynthaseshavebeenidentified,andeachdesignates pathwayandenzymesforthe
whichtypeofPHAwillbethefinalproducts)polymerizestheproductionofaPHA,whichistypicallydefinedby productionof
itsRgroup(Fig.2)(Volova125). polyhydroxyalkanoates
(Reemmer)..

ContemporaryResearch
GramPositivevs.GramNegativeStrains

InordertoproducePHBs,themostcommonlyproducedformofPHA,scientiststypicallyusegramnegativestrainsbecausetheycanutilizecheap
carbonsourcesandproduceupto80%ofthecellsdryweightinPHB.ThedisadvantageofthismethodisthatPHBproductionviagramnegative
strainsrequiresanextrastepinordertoeradicatetheendotoxinsintheadditionaloutermembraneofthesestrains.Althoughthisoutermembraneis
onlytypicalofgramnegativestrains,PHBproductionviagrampositivestrainsraisesotherissues.Whenputunderthesamesortsofconditions
requiredforPHBproduction,grampositivestrainstendtoundergosporulation,ortheproductionofspores,whichdetractsfromPHBproductivity.
(Lopezet.al.,2012)

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Figure2.GrammNegativevs.GramPositive(AmericanAcquarium)

ScientistshaverecentlyfoundagrampositivestraincalledBacillusmegateriumthatcanproducePHBunderthesamesortsofmethodsand
conditionsthatmostgramnegativestrainsuse.Accordingtoexperiments,theBacillusmegateriumstrainusesthesamecheapcarbonsources
glucoseandglycerolbutcanonlyproduce60%ofitsdrycellweightinPHB.Thismethodavoidstheextraprocesstoremoveendotoxins,butitis
unclearwhetherthelossinPHBproductionisworthwhileeconomically.Theresultsarepromising,however,becausethesuccesswithBacillus
megateriumdoesgivepotentialforfindingmoreusefulgrampositivestrainsoralteringexistingones.(Lopezet.al.,2012)Thisabilitytoalter
strainsappearstobethehopeforthefutureofPHBproduction.ScientistCraigVenterhasalreadymanagedtocreatesyntheticorganismsbyinjecting
asynthesizedDNAcodeintoabacterialcell.Ventersgroupaimstoengineerthecellstogrowbyconsumingcarbondioxide,whichcouldbehelpful
formakingnotonlyplastics,butfoodandfuelaswell.IfVentersgroupcanengineerstrainstoconsumecarbondioxideinsteadoftypicalcarbon
sources,therecouldbeimplicationsforplanetarysettlementaswell.Thepotentialisfarreaching,andtheproductionofplasticsisjustthebeginning.
(Bates)

EnvironmentalandHealthBenefits
Scientistshavediscoveredwaystousebacterialderivedplasticstohelpbenefitoursociety,bothmedicallyandenvironmentally.Twoexamplesof
recentstudiesfindthatsutures(madefrompolymers)andbutanediol(BDO),canbothbeproducedfromgeneticallyengineeredbacteria.

Previouslysurgerieshaveresultedinwoundinfectionsduetopoorsutures.Thestitchesdoctorsusedwereweakandbrittle,sometimesfailingtolast
thewholehealingprocess.AccordingtoTechnologyReview,oneinfivepatientsabdominalwoundsbreakopenaftertheirsurgeriesasaresultofa
prematurelydissolvedsuture(Bourzac).Scientistshavediscoveredanewstrongersuturemadefromgeneticallyengineeredbacteriathatabsorbs
afterthewoundhasbeenhealed.TheFoodandDrugAdministrationhasrecentlyapprovedthesepolymersuturestobeusedinmedicalprocedures.
Thesuturesaremoreflexible,durable,andsaferthanprevioussutures.Inaddition,thesesuturesarethermoplastic,allowingthemtomeltunder
extremeheatandtosolidifywhencooled.Thesepolymersarealsoabletostretchandmoldintoanyposition,makingiteasierfordoctorsduring
surgeries(Bourzac).

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Figure3.TheFutureofTupperware?(Io9.com)

1,4Butanediol(BDO)isanimportantcommoditychemicalusedtomanufactureover2.5milliontonsannuallyofvaluablepolymers,anditis
currentlyproducedexclusivelythroughfeedstocksderivedfromoilandnaturalgas.(Yimet.al.).Insteadofusingthemoreexpensiveoilornatural
gastomakeBDO,scientistshaverecentlyannouncedthattheyhavedevelopedstrainsofbacteriathatcanbeproducebutanediolwithaslittleas
waterandsugar(Biello).Eversincetherehasbeenaglobalcommitmentofgoinggreen,researchershavesearchedforsafer,moreenvironmentally
friendlymaterials.Previously,theproductionuseofoilandnaturalgastomakeBDOisveryenergyintensive.WhilecombiningEscherichiacoli(E.
coli)withwaterandsugartomakethischemicalcompound,theuseofenergynoticeablydecreases.Utilizingthesethreeresourcesallowsforamore
efficientproductionprocesstobeconductedundernormaltemperatureandpressure.AccordingtoInhibit,thesegeneticallyengineeredbacteriaare
producedinlargefermentationtankssimilartohowalgaearebeingmadetoproducebiofuels(Biello).

ScientistsarestillresearchingtomakeothermaterialsusingBDOproducedfromgeneticallyengineeredbacteria.NewTupperwaremadefromBDO
canonedayholdyourpeanutbuttersandwich,insteadofusingthemoreenergyintensiveTupperwarethatweusetoday(Yimet.al.).

EconomicProspects
Improvingtheefficiencyoftheproductionofbacterialderivedplasticscouldcompletelytransformtheplasticsindustry.Asitcurrentlystands,the
plasticsindustryreliesalmostcompletelyoncrudeoiltoproducepetrochemicals,butcertainfirmsarestartingtomakeapushtowardstheincreased
dependenceonorganicallygeneratedplastics.Therearetwochallengesinvolvedinmakingbacterialderivedplasticseconomicallycompetitivewith
petrochemicals:achievingefficientproductionoffeedstockchemicals,andachievingtheefficientproductionofthesebioplastics.Bothofthese
challenges,ofcourse,revolvearoundgivingenoughbacteriatheproperconditionstomassproducePHAs(TheEconomist).

Foreconomicpurposes,bacteriacanbeengineeredtometabolizeglucosetoproduceplastics.Onepivotalstepforwardfortheindustrywouldbeto
findtheproperenzymestobreakdowncellulose,whichisabundantinagriculturalwaste,inorderforbacteriatomassproduceaglucosesourcefor
plasticproduction(TheEconomist).

OnemethodbeingusedtozeroinonthemostefficientenzymestobreakdowncelluloseistouseDNAmicroarrays.Thesearespecialchipsthat
showwhatgenesareactiveatagivenmoment,toworkoutwhatotherenzymesthe[microbes]aremakingwhentheydigestcellulose(The
Economist).Ifthisgroupofenzymescanbeidentified,itwouldnarrowdownthesearchforthemostefficient,activeenzymesthatcanproducea
costeffectivefeedstockforplasticproduction.Atthispoint,manybusinessventuresareprivatelyfundedandinearlystages.Thepotentialupsidefor
thisindustry,however,isastronomical.

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Figure3.AGeneralSchemeforcDNAMicroarray(Columbia.edu)

References
Gilmore,David."PHAs:Chemistry,History,andBiology."Dr.DavidF.Gilmore:EnvironmentalMicrobiologyResearchLab.ArkansasState
University,2005.Web.7May2012.

Reemmer,Jesica."AdvancesinthesynthesisandextractionofbiodegradablepolyhydroxyalkanoatesinplantsystemsAreview."MGbasic
Biotechnology.5.1(2009):n.page.Web.8May.2012.<http://ejournal.vudat.msu.edu/index.php/mmg445/article/viewArticle/383/349>.

Volova,Tatiana.Polyhydroxalkanoates:Plasticsofthe21stCentury.1sted.Hauppauge,NY:NovaSciencePublishers,2004.125.Web.

Bates,Claire."LifeonMarscloserthaneverformanclaimsscientistcreatingartificiallifethatfeedsoffcarbondioxide."DailyMailOnline248
2011,n.pag.Web.9May.2012.

Lopez,Jimmy,JavierNaranjo,JuanHiguita,MariaCubitto,CarlosCardona,andMarceloVillar."BiosynthesisofPHBfromaNewIsolatedBacillus
megateriumStrain:OutlookonFutureDevelopmentswithEndosporeFormingBacteria."BiotechnologyandBioprocessEngineering.17.(2012):
250258.Web.9May.2012.<http://www.springerlink.com/content/b448284180v2557m/fulltext.pdf>.

Yim,H.,R.Haselbeck,etal.(2011)."MetabolicengineeringofEscherichiacolifordirectproductionof1,4butanediol."NatChemBiol7(7):445
452.

Biello,D.(2008).TurningBacteriaintoPlasticFactories.ScientificAmerican.

Bourzac,K.(2007).PlasticMadebyBacteriaCommercialized.TechnologyReview,MIT.

(2004).SeaofDreams:Geneticallymodifiedmicrobeswillleadtoarevolutioninindustrialbiotechnology.TheEconomist.Orlando.

Images:

Figure1:(Reemer)

Figure2:http://www.americanaquariumproducts.com/images/graphics/bacteria.jpg

Figure3:http://io9.com/5804479/yournexttupperwaresetcouldbemadewithbacteria

Figure4:http://www.columbia.edu/~bo8/undergraduate_research/projects/sahil_mehta_project/work.htm

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