FURI | Fall 2022

Engineering Bacteria to Depolymerize PET Plastics to Combat Pollution

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Accumulation of plastic waste in oceans and landfills increasingly threatens life due to fragmentation into microplastics. Annually, it is estimated 359 million tons of plastic are produced, 150-200 million tons of which accrues in landfills and contain a substantial portion of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Plasmid constructs have been developed for the expression of PET-hydrolyzing enzymes. The toxicity threshold of terephthalic acid, a by-product of PET depolymerization, was determined for wild-type bacteria. The future plan involves an in situ PET depolymerization process using engineered bacteria.

Student researcher

Haley Nicole McKeown

Chemical engineering

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Graduation date: Spring 2024