Scientists have converted plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring using genetically engineered bacteria. According to research published in the journal Green Chemistry, genetically engineered E-Coli bacteria has been used to convert terephthalic acid (TA) from plastic waste into vanillin.

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Joanna Sadler, co-author of the study, said, “This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”

Related: Scientists create super-enzyme to degrade plastic bottles 6 times faster

Terephthalic acid is a basic compound obtained when plastic bottles are broken down by enzymes. Last year, scientists developed mutant enzymes that could break plastic bottles into their basic units. The result of that process is that plastic bottles are converted into TA. Researchers have used the basic product from enzymes’ work on plastic bottles to develop industrially important products. They warmed microbial broth to 37°C for a day. As a result, 79% of TA was converted into vanillin.

Vanillin is a product naturally extracted from vanilla beans. The product is commonly used in the cosmetics and food industries. It is also an important raw material for pharmaceutical companies and is used in herbicides.

Although vanillin can be naturally extracted from vanilla beans, its demand has been higher than the supply in recent times. Based on 2018 data, the global demand for vanillin was 37,000 metric tons. Due to the deficiency, 85% of the product is synthesized from chemicals derived from fossil fuels. The recent discovery could be a way of improving the supply of vanillin if it can be made commercially viable.

“Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high-value products can be made,” said Stephen Wallace, study author from the University of Edinburgh, as reported by The Guardian.

Plastic bottles are one of the top ocean pollutants after plastic bags, according to recent research.

“This is a really interesting use of microbial science to improve sustainability,” said Ellis Crawford of the Royal Society of Chemistry. “Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”

+ Green Chemistry

Via The Guardian

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