FURI | Spring 2023

Depolymerization of PET Plastics Using Engineered Bacterium

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Accumulation of plastic waste in oceans and landfills increasingly threatens marine, animal, and human life due to fragmentation into microplastics. It is estimated that 359 million tons of plastic is produced annually, half of which accrues in landfills. A substantial portion of this plastic is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Plasmid constructs have been developed for the expression of PET-hydrolyzing enzymes and the toxicity threshold of terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, by-products of PET depolymerization, have been determined for the wild-type strain. In situ PET depolymerization was performed using the engineered bacteria, resulting in successful deconstruction into monomeric units.

Student researcher

Haley Nicole McKeown

Chemical engineering

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Graduation date: Spring 2024