Adding genes to bacteria offers sustainable routes to make compounds currently obtained from petrochemicals
The dream of replacing petrochemicals with renewable resources in the manufacture of synthetic fibers and plastics has moved a step closer. A*STAR researchers have genetically modified the bacterium Escherichia coli to produce a compound that can be converted into a base material for manufacturing nylon and other synthetic products1.
“We need to reduce consumption of oil and gas and move toward more sustainable technologies,” explains Sudhakar Jonnalagadda who carried out the work with colleagues at the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences.
Production of most synthetic fibers and plastics begins with crude oil; a finite resource whose extraction and processing has significant environmental impact. The alternative sustainable route uses bacteria to make the precious starting materials from simple substances such as glucose. The glucose can be extracted from biomass which includes crops and other biological materials that can be grown to meet demand.
Bacteria do not naturally produce the required products in significant quantities, so the trick is to persuade these microorganisms to become mini manufacturing plants for chemicals required by industry. One such chemical is muconic acid, which can be readily converted into adipic acid, a chemical used in huge quantities to manufacture nylon.