Have you ever wondered about the chemical composition of plastic and what is it made of? Most industrial plastic is made of petrochemicals. The term ‘plastic’ refers to the property of plasticity which is the ability to deform without breaking. It is also durable, low cost, water resistant and light. Due to these beneficial properties of plastic, plastic, plastic products and especially plastic bags have become popular.

Consequently the bulk of plastic in the environment has dramatically increased. In contrast to these benefits there are many disadvantages of plastic. It is a non degradable material. Consequently, when they accumulate in the environment it will have negative effects such as being hazardous to wildlife as they mistake plastic for food. When these plastic bags clog roadside drains it could lead to inundation of streets during heavy rains.
To curb these negative effects scientists have been carrying out many researches to find alternatives to non degradable plastic. Bioplastic is one such which is a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than petroleum. Bioplastic can be produced using a predatory bacterium.

This new method has been designed to use a predatory bacterium to extract bioplastic material from the inside of other bacteria without degrading it. The research team has developed the system for producing PHA bioplastics (Polyhydroxyalkanoates) which are durable, biodegradable and adaptable to a wide range of medical and pharmaceutical applications as an alternative to plastics derived from petroleum.

Some bacterial strains can naturally produce PHA polymers. These bacteria produce PHA under low concentrations of their important nutrients and high concentrations of carbon sources. Due to this excess carbon, bacteria create carbon reserves as PHAs to save energy for their functions such as growing and reproducing. But this polymer, produced inside the cell is difficult to extract. Until now, different detergents and cell disruption systems have been developed and applied to lyse the producers and release the product. But these processes are not environmentally-friendly and inefficient which increases product costs.

Therefore to reduce these costs, the research team chose bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus which preys upon other bacterium. This predator was genetically redesigned to enable the disruption of bioplastic producing bacteria facilitating the extraction and further purification of the bio-product.

They used this predatory bacterium as a lytic agent to kill the other bacteria (in this case the P. putida KT 2440 strain, a natural PHA producer) and recover the intracellular byproduct. Moreover, this predator does not degrade the bioplastic accumulated by the prey. This system enables the bioplastic to be recovered in a single step without using complex equipment or toxic compounds.

It is an innovative process because a predatory bacterium is used as an alternative method for the recovery of an intracellular product of industrial interest. This system which has been discovered by a research team in Madrid has already been patented. Therefore it is expected that bioplastics would be produced commercially using this method in the near future. Renewing hopes for a better environment with bioplastics in place of non degradable plastics.