Plastic into protein? It may seem far-fetched, but a ‘food generator’ is in the works

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Two U.S. scientists have won a 1 million euro ($1.18 million) prize for creating a food generator concept that turns plastics into protein.

The 2021 Future Insight Prize went to Ting Lu, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Stephen Techtmann, associate professor of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University, for their project. It uses microbes to degrade plastic waste and convert it into food.

The two scientists, who call their project a food “generator,” focused on finding an efficient, economical and versatile technology that finds a use for plastics that are at the end of their useful life and would otherwise end up in landfills or oceans.

The resulting foods “contain all the required nutrition, are nontoxic, provide health benefits and additionally allow for personalization needs,” according to Merck.

The scientists learned to exploit synthetically altered microbes, programming them genetically to convert waste into food.

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The two scientists say their joint research will allow them “to take the plastic waste generated in the world and turn it into something valuable: food and fuel.”

Credit: Steve Techtmann/Michigan Tech

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