Killing two birds with one stone: chemical and biological upcycling of polyethylene terephthalate plastics into food

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Department of Biological Sciences; Department of Chemical Engineering


Most polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste is landfilled or pollutes the environment. Additionally, global food production must increase to support the growing population. This article explores the feasibility of using microorganisms in an industrial system that upcycles PET into edible microbial protein powder to solve both problems simultaneously. Many microorganisms can utilize plastics as feedstock, and the resultant microbial biomass contains fats, nutrients, and proteins similar to those found in human diets. While microbial degradation of PET is promising, biological PET depolymerization is too slow to resolve the global plastic crisis and projected food shortages. Evidence reviewed here suggests that by coupling chemical depolymerization and biological degradation of PET, and using cooperative microbial communities, microbes can efficiently convert PET waste into food.

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Trends in biotechnology