Several reports from international organizations warn about the enormous amount of plastic that every year ends up in the ocean, increasing pollution levels.
Now researchers at the University of Manchester have made a major biotechnological breakthrough that could help humans turn to modified bacterial cells to reduce our plastic waste.
This material is difficult to break down, especially due to its chemical structure that is made up of nonometers, which are small molecules that come together to form polymers.
Many studies have been conducted on the ability of bacteria to break down plastic to its component monomers.
In new research published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists have studied the recognition potential of a key protein involved in cellular uptake of the monomer terephthalate (TPA), by the solute-binding protein TphC.
The use of plastics is estimated to triple between now and 2050 and plastic packaging is often only used once.
The development of microbial degradation of plastics could be key to addressing this global problem.
“Understanding how bacteria recognize and degrade xenobiotic chemicals is important from both an ecological and a biotechnological perspective,” explains Dr. Neil Dixon, lead author of the research.
“Understanding at the molecular level how these plastic breakdown products are imported into bacterial cells means that we can use transporters in cells engineered for bioremediation applications to address pressing environmental problems,” he adds.