Koreans make plastics without the use of fossil fuel chemicals

Technology.am (Nov 24, 2009) — A group of South Korean scientists have created the polymers used for daily plastics through bioengineering, rather than through the utilization of fossil fuel-based chemicals. It is supposed that the practice may currently let for the manufacture of ecologically aware plastic that is biodegradable and low in toxicity.

The research focused on Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-based polymer which holds the answer to producing plastics through natural and renewable resources. Polymers are molecules found in daily life in the form of plastics and rubbers.

“The polyesters and other polymers we use daily are generally resultant from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process,” Professor Sang Yup Lee, who direct the study, said in a press statement.

“The thought of producing polymers from renewable biomass has fascinated much notice due to the growing concerns of environmental problems and the restricted nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good option to petroleum-based plastics, as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans.”

Until now PLA has been produced in a two-step fermentation and chemical process of polymerization, which is equally composite and expensive. The team used a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli and developed a one-stage process.

“By developing a plan which combines metabolic engineering and enzyme engineering, we’ve developed a competent bio-based one-step production process for PLA and its copolymers,” said Lee.

“This means that a developed E. coli strain is now proficient of efficiently producing unnatural polymers, through a one-step fermentation process.

“Global warming and other environmental troubles are urging us to build up sustainable processes based on renewable resources.

“This latest plan should be in general helpful for developing other engineered organisms capable of producing a variety of unnatural polymers by direct fermentation from renewable resources.”

The research team from KAIST University in Seoul and the Korean chemical company LG Chem published their answer in the journal “Biotechnology and Bioengineering”.

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