Using sunlight to make plastic? Genetically modified algae shows promise

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The Future of Bioplastics for Packaging

Michigan State University scientists are proposing a new way to economically produce biodegradable plastics with sunlight and help from an ancient microorganism.

The team, led by Taylor Weiss, a postdoctoral researcher in the Ducat lab at the MSU-Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, took cyanobacteria, that use sunlight to naturally produce sugar, and genetically tweaked them to constantly leak that sugar into a surrounding saltwater medium.

They paired them with natural bioplastic-producing bacteria that fed on the leaked sugar. The pairing was prolific.

Processed biomass contained a near constant 30 percent bioplastic content, four times more than similar experimental systems, and production rates were over 20 times faster.

The approach avoids fossil fuels for production and aims to reduce plastic’s impact on the environment.

Scientists are looking to genetically alter cyanobacteria, tiny photosynthetic workhorses, also known as blue-green algae, to funnel their outputs into useful products.

Weiss said that scientists create gradually more efficient bio-production systems all the time, but a major twist is that his improves over time, without human meddling.

[Editor’s note: Read the full study (behind paywall)]

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: MSU scientists work to make biodegradable plastic from sunlight

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