Students Engineer Bacteria That Can Transform Plastic Into CO2 And Water

by : Charlie Cocksedge on : 24 Jun 2019 08:05
scientists/plastic wasteIan Lindsay/Vancouver Sun/Pixabay

Two students have discovered a method to transform plastic into other useful chemicals, compounds, and water.

Jeanny Yao, 21, and Miranda Wang, 22, who have been developing their project for years, say they have a way of ‘upcycling’ plastic pollution into ‘valuable compounds for textiles’ and ‘valuable biosurfactants for the textile industry.’


They do this by using ‘genetically engineered bacteria’ to chemically breakdown plastic polymers – such as polystyrene and polyethylene film – and turn it into organic compounds, which then undergo a ‘biological conversion’ into more valuable products.

Students Engineer Bacteria That Can Transform Plastic Into CO2 And WaterIan Lindsay/Vancouver Sun

The two scientists presented their findings at a recent TED talk, and have been awarded no less than five prestigious prizes from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for their findings. The pair have also won a number of entrepreneurship contests for their discovery, and secured more than $300,000 in funding, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The pair are now planning to move to Silicon Valley to further the development of their innovative technology.


As Wang said:

Our technology is the first in the world that can break down plastics at a scalable industrial level.

Tesco have launched a new sustainability scheme.Deposit Photos

Jeanny and Miranda’s project – BioCellection – aims to repurpose plastic waste into other textiles and compounds which can then be reused.


This is done by using genetically engineered bacteria which can breakdown plastic into its most basic, chemical form.

As their website states:

BioCellection’s conversion technology involves the chemical breakdown of plastic polymers, such as polystyrene and post-consumer film, into organic compounds, followed by biological conversion into valuable products. BioCellection upcycles unrecyclable plastic waste into valuable compound rhamnolipid for textiles using genetically engineered bacteria.

It happens in a two-step process that tackles plastic pollution one plastic at a time. By coupling chemistry and synthetic biology, Biocellection creates a novel process that breaks down plastic into usable building blocks that are then turned into other valuable materials.

The genetically modified bacteria can effectively dissolve plastic into carbon dioxide and water. They are particularly keen to develop a technique to breakdown the more difficult to recycle plastics, such as polystyrene.


The scientists believe they can turn the global plastic crisis into a ‘greater opportunity’, by recycling plastic ‘beyond the oil loop’ and ‘disrupting the textiles industry.’

Jeanny and Miranda say their products are about two years away from becoming commercially available.

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Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist and sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.

Topics: Science, Bacteria, invention, Plastic, Students, water


Vancouver Sun
  1. Vancouver Sun

    Vancouver students win more awards for discovering bacteria that destroys polluting plastics