It is believed that the technique may now allow for the production of environmentally-friendly plastic that is biodegradable and low in toxicity.Mass production of plastic out of E. coli? Well, that's not a disaster movie plot waiting to happen.
The research focused on Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bio-based polymer which holds the key to producing plastics through natural and renewable resources. Polymers are molecules found in everyday life in the form of plastics and rubbers.
"The polyesters and other polymers we use everyday are mostly derived from fossil oils made through the refinery or chemical process," Professor Sang Yup Lee, who lead the research, said in a press statement.
"The idea of producing polymers from renewable biomass has attracted much attention due to the increasing concerns of environmental problems and the limited nature of fossil resources. PLA is considered a good alternative to petroleum-based plastics, as it is both biodegradable and has a low toxicity to humans."
Until now PLA has been produced in a two-step fermentation and chemical process of polymerization, which is both complex and expensive. The team used a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli and developed a one-stage process.
Groundbreaking advance or not, this kind of innovation is the kind of thing that helps propel the South Korean economy forward, not to mention anybody else who can take advantage of being able to make biodegradable plastics without petroleum. And wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to rely on that stuff so much?