Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Breaking

Microbe power breaks the chain of plastic pollution


These engineered microbes break down plastics into biomolecules that can be used to make new products

Spotted: We produce around 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and this number is growing. Even worse, around half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – used just once and then thrown away — and it can take up to 1,000 years for this plastic to degrade. Plastic waste is now everywhere in the form of microplastics, even in our bodies.

One solution is to speed up the degradation process. This is the focus of Breaking, a plastic degradation and synthetic biology company. The company – a spinout of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University – has developed a microbe called X-32, which can degrade the toughest plastics in as little as 22 months, leaving behind just carbon dioxide, water, and biomass.

X-32 works by breaking down hydrocarbon chains and can decompose products with the toughest plastic bonds, including polyesters like PET bottles and polyamides like nylon. This is an improvement over other solutions that only target a single plastic type.

As it degrades plastics, X-32 generates biomass containing different biomolecules. These could potentially be used in the production of biofuels, biodegradable plastics, and high-value chemicals.

Breaking was recently launched from stealth by Colossal Biosciences. The company has also raised $10.5 million (around €9.8 million) in a seed round. The startup’s first-in-field pilots will target the food waste and composting industry, using X-32 to degrade plastics mixed in with food waste in landfills.

Other recent innovations working to eliminate plastic waste include a system that recycles plastic waste into multi-purpose chemicals and a microplastic-free plastic.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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