Plastic bottles have been transformed into vanilla flavor using genetically modified bacteria. For the first time, a valuable chemical substance was extracted from plastic waste. Recycling plastic bottles into more profitable materials can make the recycling process more attractive and efficient. Plastics currently lose about 95%.
Researchers have developed mutant enzymes to break down the polyethylene terephthalate polymer used to make beverage bottles into its main components, Terephthalic acid (TA). Now scientists have used insects to convert TA into vanillin. Vanillin is commonly used in the food and cosmetic industries and is an important free-flowing chemical used in the manufacture of drugs, detergents and herbicides.
In 2018, it was 37,000 tons, far exceeding the supply of natural vanilla pods. Currently, approximately 85% of vanillin is synthesized from chemicals derived from fossil fuels. Stephen Wallace, also from the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our work challenges the notion that plastic is a problematic waste, but shows its use as a new carbon resource that can be used to make high-quality product.
Approximately 1 million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute, of which only 14% are recycled. Even recycled bottles can now only be processed into opaque fibers to make clothes or carpets. Escherichia coli converts TA to vanillin. According to Wallace, scientists heated the microbial broth to 37°C for one day under the same conditions as brewing, and converted 79% of TA into vanillin.
Ellie Crawford of the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “This is a very interesting application of microbiological science in increasing resistance. The use of microorganisms to convert environmentally harmful plastic waste into products. Most importantly, it is green. A good demonstration of chemistry.
Recent studies have shown that bottles are the second most common type of plastic pollution in the ocean after plastic bags. In 2018, scientists accidentally created a plastic that can decompose. The mutant enzyme in the bottle, and subsequent work produced a super enzyme that can chew plastic bottles.