The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is a worldwide synthetic biology competition that sees undergraduates create a genetically engineered system, before travelling to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to present their results.
For its project, Plasticity, a team at Imperial College London re-engineered the genetic code of harmless E.coli bacteria so that they can break down landfill waste and turn it into a biodegradable plastic or bio-plastic.
Plasticity won gold at the recent iGEM awards ceremony, coming first in the manufacturing section and third overall out of total of 200 teams worldwide.
Current methods for making bio-plastics rely on plants as the main ingredient, but this means valuable agricultural land has to be used to grow the plants.
The Imperial team say their process could be scaled up to industrial levels and that using waste material instead of plants could free up agricultural land so that it can be used more productively for agriculture.
The resulting bio-plastic could be used in healthcare to make syringes and other disposable devices used in hospitals.
Here the Plasticity team talk through their project that turns rubbish into bio-plastic
Imperial team member Jemma Pilcher said: “In the future, our system could provide a sustainable way to make an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics, which would reduce our dependency on oil.
“Additionally, this system would divert rubbish away from landfill sites and incinerators, which have very negative effects on the environment by releasing toxins, and instead use it as a resource.”
So, can material innovation save the world? Can businesses, governments and consumers be persuaded to declare war on the word ‘waste’ and work instead to create new a permanent life for materials?
This is the subject of a new video launched on the Guardian website today. It features an interview with Sophie Thomas, co-director of design at of RSA, Scott Hamlin CEO of Looptworks, Richard Kirkman technical director of Veolia and Kresse Wesling co-founder of Elvis & Kresse about how to push forward sustainable innovation.
Watch it by clicking on this link.