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Issue 13, 2021
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Microbial synthesis of vanillin from waste poly(ethylene terephthalate)

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Abstract

Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) is an abundant and extremely useful material, with widespread applications across society. However, there is an urgent need to develop technologies to valorise post-consumer PET waste to tackle plastic pollution and move towards a circular economy. Whilst PET degradation and recycling technologies have been reported, examples focus on repurposing the resultant monomers to produce more PET or other second-generation materials. Herein, we report a novel pathway in engineered Escherichia coli for the direct upcycling of PET derived monomer terephthalic acid into the value-added small molecule vanillin, a flavour compound ubiquitous in the food and cosmetic industries, and an important bulk chemical. After process optimisation, 79% conversion to vanillin from TA was achieved, a 157-fold improvement over our initial conditions. Parameters such as temperature, cell permeabilisation and in situ product removal were key to maximising vanillin titres. Finally, we demonstrate the conversion of post-consumer PET from a plastic bottle into vanillin by coupling the pathway with enzyme-catalysed PET hydrolysis. This work demonstrates the first biological upcycling of post-consumer plastic waste into vanillin using an engineered microorganism.

Graphical abstract: Microbial synthesis of vanillin from waste poly(ethylene terephthalate)

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Supplementary files

Article information


Submitted
15 Mar 2021
Accepted
12 May 2021
First published
10 Jun 2021

This article is Open Access

Green Chem., 2021,23, 4665-4672
Article type
Paper

Microbial synthesis of vanillin from waste poly(ethylene terephthalate)

J. C. Sadler and S. Wallace, Green Chem., 2021, 23, 4665 DOI: 10.1039/D1GC00931A

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