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Living cells to produce ecological plastics

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13.10.2017

Natural organic compunds that contain fluorine are rarities, as the predominant number of living organisms is not capable of producing them on their own. Despite this, American researchers have managed to genetically modify a microbiological host that began synthetising a monomer for in vivo production of biominerals, allowing for the creation of ecological plastics.

Contrary to its frequency of occurence in nature, fluorine is exceptionally often used for commercial purposes. It is an important component of a teflon-based coating that is applied on the surface of frying pans, being present in many agrochemicals and 20-30% of modern pharmaceutical, beginning from cytostatic medicines and ending with intravenous and inhalational preparations. This element may be found even in liquid crystal displays and and refrigerants. Due to the large demand for fluorine, scientists working with Michelle C.Y. Chang at the University of California in Berkeley have decided to modify the process of biosynthesis in cells to obtain fluorinated metabolites and find an application for them in the manufacturing market. In order to achieve this, they have introduced genes encoding three enzymes of different microorganisms into E. Coli bacteria. Due to this manipulation, the derivatives of fluorine could be used as substrates for a high-efficiency synthesis.

In the course of research, the scientists have decided to introduce yet one more gene into the bacterial cells, as responsible for the production of PHA, namely ? polyesters storing carbon and energy. Biodegradable PHA is used for the production of plastics that may further allow for the manufacture of medical implants and packages, e.g. for food products. Genetically modified microorganisms incorporated fluorinated compounds into PHA which eventually led to the creation of polymers containing between 5 to 15% of fluorinated monomers. The ecological plastics such obtained were less breakable than PHA directly combined with fluorine. The discovery will potentially improve the use of materials such obtained in the market of medical implants and packaging industry.

Source: Michelle C.Y. Chang et al., Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 10.1002/anie.201706696

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