A team of South Korean scientists and chemical company LG Chem Ltd. have developed a new fermentation process that enables polylactic acid polymers and copolymers to be produced in a single-step direct fermentation process.
Up until now, PLA has been produced using a two-step process of fermentation and chemical polymerization, which researchers say is both complex and expensive.
The new process, which uses a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli, could make production of PLA and lactate-containing copolymers cheaper and more commercially viable. While PLA is one of the less-costly bioplastics available today, it still carries a price premium over many traditional resins.
By developing a strategy which combines metabolic engineering and enzyme engineering, we've developed an efficient bio-based one-step production process for PLA and its copolymers, said team leader Professor Sang Yup Lee.
This new strategy should be generally useful for developing other engineered organisms capable of producing various unnatural polymers by direct fermentation from renewable resources, he said.
The scientists, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, published details about their new production process in two papers in the latest edition of the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
KAIST is based in Daejeon, South Korea, and LG Chem is headquartered in Seoul.
The South Korean research illustrates the efforts being made by researchers to use genetic modification currently highly unpopular with the European public to improve the costs and efficiencies of production techniques based on renewable feedstocks.
Last month, Cambridge, Mass.-based bioscience firm Metabolix Inc. announced the latest results from its work to manufacture polyhydroxyalkanoate polymers in genetically modified tobacco crops.
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