In Wisconsin, researchers have genetically engineered Novosphingobium aromaticivorans to digest lignin and produce smaller aromatic hydrocarbons that could be used to produce a plastic alternative. Most biobased processes use sugar as feedstock, with lignin considered a byproduct that is typically burned. “Other microbes tried before may be able to digest a few types of aromatics found in lignin,” Miguel Perez, professor at University of Madison-Wisconsin and the lead author of the study, tells Earth.com. “When we met this microbe, it was already good at degrading a wide range of compounds. That makes this microbe very promising.”
N. aromaticivorans uses lignin to produce pyrone-4,6-dicarboxylic, which is currently used as a plastic replacement in Japan. By removing three genes from N. aromaticivorans, Perez and his team were able to speed up PDC production.
The work was published in a recent issue of Green Chemistry.