Engineering Microbes to Upcycle Agricultural Bioplastic
Dr. Lahiru Jayakody, Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University
Today, 7.4 million tons of synthetic polyethylene (PE) plastic film being used in the agricultural sector as packing and mulching material. Bioplastics like poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) [PBAT] are a suitable alternative to PE. However, techno economically feasible recycling technologies are not available to alleviate the negative environmental, energy, and social impacts of petroleum-based agricultural bioplastics. Hence, we have developed an innovative biochemical approach by engineering robust microbial cell factories to bio-upcycle agricultural plastic and produce high-value bioplastic precursors. We leverage the advanced biomass hydrolyzing techniques, namely oxidative hydrothermal dissolution (OHD) and engineered microbial funneling techniques, to generate the high-value precursor chemicals. The developed green technology establishes a circular material economy with profound environmental, energy, and economic impacts and long-term sustainability of agricultural systems.
Dr. Lahiru Jayakody is an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and has a joint appointment in the School of Biological Sciences and Fermentation Science Institute. He also serves as Editor in Chief to Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, one of the prestigious journals in Biotechnology. His research studies primarily aim to develop robust microbial cell factories via systems biology, synthetic microbiology, and metabolic engineering approaches to valorize conventional (biomass) and unconventional substrates (industrial waste). His findings contribute to understanding cellular processes of fundamental and industrial interests to tailor model and non-model biocatalysts to enable engineering microbes to high-value fuels, chemicals, and bio-materials from waste, including plastic. He has several impactful publications and patents on waste valorization via engineered microbes, and currently, his research team works on developing microbial cell factories to Upcycle Plastic.