Plastics, as most people refer to common polymers, are responsible for the overflow of the world's landfills and of most of the contamination in our oceans. However, sustainable polymers could be the light at the end of the tunnel.
The use of polymers is visible in almost every aspect of our modern society, from the plastics we use everyday to the DNA that brought us to existence. Because polymers have a broad range of applications, that allows them to be tuned and applied over the fields of health, engineering, water remediation, and purification. Dr. Natalia Tarazona from the Institute of Active Polymers, states that life cycle development, circular-by-design, and degradation of plastics are three pillars for sustainable polymer development. These would assure that the polymers used in the future would have a reasonable lifespan that reduces the impact on the environment and can be adapted to recycling processes. In order to have an improved recyclability, we would need to implement an enzyme and bacterial-assisted degradation of polymers that can be achieved by certain attainable conditions (such as a change in pH).
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a class of biobased plastics that are produced by a bacteria-driven biorefinery process that allows them to be biodegradable. However, PHAs recyclability is still an area that needs future research and optimization because they are not easily recyclable. Dr. Tarazona viewed that in the presence of specific enzymes in alkaline environments, biodegradation is possible and can be affected by individual PHA structures.
Menzypol-Net: A Bridge in Polymer Science
Menzypol-Net focuses on forming a partnership between Colombia and Germany to develop the next generation of scientists that use natural resources responsibly and contribute to the microbial diversity in Polymer Science. This network is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Colombian Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation. Together, they plan to offer joint doctoral programs, workshops, and mobility of researchers that provide an interdisciplinary setting to find solutions for the overaccumulation of plastics in the environment.
If you are interested in PHAs degradation or networking with Menzypol-Net, click here to learn more about Dr. Tarazona’s 2021 MRS Spring Meeting and Exhibit On-Demand presentation.