Teaching bacteria how to eat plastic in marine conditions

Anna Faber, Wing Cheung, Angus Nicol, Kirstin Fritz, Jamie N. Tedeschi, Georg Fritz

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Annually, 350 – 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide of which millions of tons accumulate in our oceans due to low circular usage. Marine plastic litter poses a threat to the health of aquatic organisms and humans alike putting the global community back with respect to reaching the UN sustainable development goals. Besides preventing the generation of hazardous plastic waste, society needs to focus on improving recycling techniques. In this context, microbial degradation of plastic waste could conduce to environmentally friendly solutions in the future. Our research contributes to a better understanding of enzymes active on specific types of plastic and drives development towards industrial applications. As a proof of concept, we have fostered the degradation of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with our fast-growing, marine host Vibrio natriegens by building Golden Gate constructs with relevant genes from two different soil bacteria. When engineering the PET degradation pathway, catabolically active enzymes, as well as translocation systems and transporter, had to be considered as the decomposition process requires the excretion of two vital enzymes for PET hydrolysis and the uptake of degradation intermediates by V. natriegens. In total, the designed PET degradation pathway combines seven exogeneous coding sequences with parts of V. natriegens’ endogenous metabolism to enable the bacterium to use PET as a single carbon source for energy recovery, biomass production, and secondary metabolite synthesis. Further, our research aims at identifying new microbial plastic degraders from local marine environments in WA by performing metagenome sequencing on samples from highly plastic contaminated sites. We hope to identify novel enzyme candidates with the help of Hidden Markov models by metagenome mining soon. By improving the efficiency and the applicability of microbial plastic degradation, we want to support change towards a circular economy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022
EventComBio2022 - Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 27 Sept 202230 Sept 2022


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