New discovery: Scientists turn plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring

Published July 24, 2021, 10:30 AM

by Vina Medenilla

While the world is slowly taking small steps to reduce plastic consumption, it becomes more and more evident how global plastic pollution has alarming effects on humans, wildlife, and the environment. 

Plastics lose their material value after one use, which is why it is important to find more ways to upcycle them for a more circular economy. 

For the first time, scientists found a way to transform used plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring with the help of genetic engineering. 

Image by Matthew Gollop from Pixabay.

The researchers from the University of Edinburgh used Escherichia coli, an engineered microorganism, in turning PET bottles into vanillin, a chemical component from the vanilla bean extract that gives that distinct flavor and smell to the product. 

Vanillin can be found in food, cosmetics, herbicides, among others. This can be synthetically produced from petrochemicals or chemicals from petroleum or natural gas. It also has high market demand. 

Scientists used plastic-eating mutant enzymes to convert the bottles into vanillin. They found that the process only had light reactions and left no hazardous waste. 

Stephen Wallace, one of the researchers, said that the study indicates how the world can turn plastics into a resource material that can create high-value products.

As plastic pollution worsens and impacts the environment and economy, diverting PET bottles away from landfills and oceans can be one way to mitigate its effects. 

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