Production of polyhydroxyalkanoates, a family of biodegradable plastics and elastomers, in bacteria and plants

Y Poirier, C Nawrath, C Somerville
Bio/technology 1995, 13 (2): 142-50
In response to problems associated with plastic waste and its effect on the environment, there has been considerable interest in the development and production of biodegradable plastics. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are polyesters that accumulate as inclusions in a wide variety of bacteria. These bacterial polymers have properties ranging from stiff and brittle plastics to rubber-like materials. Because of their inherent biodegradability, PHAs are regarded as an attractive source of nonpolluting plastics and elastomers that can be used for specialty and commodity products. The possibility of producing PHAs in large scale and at a cost comparable to synthetic plastics has arisen from the demonstration of PHA accumulation in transgenic Arabidopsis plants expressing the bacterial PHA biosynthetic genes. Synergism between knowledge of the enzymes and genes contributing to PHA synthesis in bacteria and engineering of plant metabolic pathways will be necessary for the development of crop plants that produce biodegradable plastics.

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