SOLVE magazine Issue 01 2020 - Page 13

SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: BIOTECHNOLOGY oil to make numerous everyday products and offers an attractive alternative to burning crop wastes, further helping to reduce CO 2 emissions. The research team comprised international experts in structural biology, biochemistry, quantum chemistry and synthetic biology at the universities of Portsmouth, Montana State, Georgia, and California, and NREL. The Diamond Light Source synchrotron was also again crucial. Dan Hinchen, a postgraduate student at the University of Portsmouth explains: “We used X-ray crystallography at the synchrotron to solve 10 enzyme structures that were bound to lignin. This gave us the blueprint to engineer an enzyme to work on new molecules. Our colleagues were then able to transfer the DNA code for this new enzyme into an industrial strain of bacteria, extending the enzyme’s capability to perform multiple reactions.” Professor McGeehan says the researchers now have proof of principle that this class of enzymes can be engineered to tackle some of the most challenging lignin-based molecules as a precursor to developing biological tools for converting waste into valuable and sustainable materials.” PETase is a bacterial enzyme that breaks down PET plastic to monomeric molecules. The biological breakdown process yields terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol, which can be reused as an alternative to oil and gas feedstocks. Give me the University of Portsmouth Join a research community committed to identifying and solving society’s problems, enriching people’s lives and creating lasting impact. Visit port.ac.uk/solve to find out more and reserve your copy of Issue 2 of Solve.