An algae for plastic

Genetically engineered algae reduces carbon dioxide and produces biodegradable plastic

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

a method has been developed by a group of Japanese research scientists that uses blue-green algae to remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce large amounts of a type of biodegradable plastic. The findings can go a long way in cutting down the emission of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. The group comprises scientists from the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, and the agency of industrial science and technology's National Institute of Bioscience and Human Technology, Japan.

The group had created a line of blue-green algae through genetic engineering in 1996. The algae carries the gene for an enzyme that makes polyhydroxybutyric acid -- a type of biodegradable plastic. When the algae are exposed to light, the enzyme directs the synthesis of the biodegradable plastic, using carbon dioxide and water as the molecular building blocks.

After discovering that the algae was only producing small amounts of the biodegradable plastic, the research group varied the culture conditions to boost the yield. The change in conditions has proved effective. The biodegradable plastic can be produced in amounts equal to over 10 per cent of dry weight by cycling the algae between light, airy conditions; and dark, oxygen-starved conditions.

The algae can be cultured at factories to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere.

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