Now it’s in the press. It’s humiliating. In Scientific American, it was written under the title: Turning Bacteria into Plastic Factories. So that’s what we, E. coli, turned into: slaves for humans to do whatever they want us to do.
I remember this like it happened yesterday. It was someday in the beginning of the year 2008. That day we found ourselves in those tanks, large ones, filled with sugar & water. “This is great; we can ferment the whole amount of sugar in the tank. This is the perfect place to live in,” that is what we thought. Then we got this strange order from our genomes or plasmids, I’m not sure & found ourselves producing that enormous amount of 1, 4- Butanediol (BDO). This was so strange because BDO used to be toxic to us at low levels (I’ve heard once that any production of a non-native material inhibits our growth). Then we realized the truth; we’ve been genetically engineered to tolerate BDO, the raw material for a very large number of plastic, rubber and fiber products including solvents, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automotive components, electrical and electronics components, as well as apparel fibers.
Honestly, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that bioengineers from San Diego-based Genomatica, Inc. are right after all; they modified us, they wanted to make use of us, they wanted to save money & energy needed to produce BDO from non-renewable petrochemical feedstocks, the currently used method. Plus it causes us no harm as Bioengineer Christophe Schilling, president and co-founder of the company said: “We have engineered the organism such that it has to secrete that product in order for it to grow.”
Now I know what it feels like with my fellow bacterial species, the natural born producers. Most bacteria synthesize the organic polyesters Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) to be used as a carbon & energy storage material. Now they’re discussing the ability to use these PHAs as biodegradable plastics.
Source: A piece of a plastic notebook found in the Petri dish appears in the picture below, Genomatica labs, San Diego.
Genetically engineered E. coli may produce plastics: http://www.sciam.com/