Abstracts are provided in the language submitted.

Since their introduction, plastics have grown to become indispensable in modern society. Ironically, the very traits which make them advantageous for daily use also threaten the sustainability of the planet: they are chemically inert, resilient, and recalcitrant to degradation. The result of this is an accumulation of plastic waste, which contaminates terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Current methods for plastic waste elimination (landfill, incineration, and recycling) are costly and also pose threats to the environment, thus recent research efforts have focused on the potential of biological systems to degrade plastics. In this regard, certain microbes have been identified to produce intracellular and extracellular enzymes capable of depolymerizing the long carbon chains of plastic polymers into smaller subunits which can then be utilized by microbial cells as sources of energy. These enzymes possess a wide range of activities, from oxidative to hydrolytic functionality, and have been found to act similarly to microbial laccases, lipases, cutinases and others. The degradation process, however, is slow owing to the polymers’ high molecular weight, strong carbon-carbon bonds, and extreme hydrophobicity, which make the enzymatic attack difficult. Consequently, this biodegradation process is currently not practical for industrial applications. In this project, we employ functional metagenomics and bioinformatics to identify and characterize novel enzymes involved in the degradation of plastics. We will engineer these enzymes for more efficient activity and harness the power of synthetic biology to tackle this worldwide problem.

Dr. Eugenia Dadzie