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2nd December 2021  Author: newprotein staff writer

The New Frontier of Food Production: Protein From Plastics

Two university professors, Ting Lu from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Stephen Techtmann, from Michigan Technological University, were awarded the 2021 €1m Food Insights Prize to develop a technology to obtain edible protein from plastics. The Food Insights Prize was established by Merck, the German science and technology company, and is now in its third edition.

The two researchers developed a ground-breaking technology that uses microbes to degrade plastic waste and then produce protein from it. They have different but complementary areas of research. The focus of Ting Lu, who is Professor of Bioengineering, is to engineer gene circuits to program microbial cell functionalities for advanced biotechnological applications. Stephen Techtmann, who is associate Professor of Biological Sciences studies how complex microbial communities can cooperate to perform functions of industrial interest. 

The €1m prize will allow them to combine their knowledge into a project called “From Waste to Food: A Generator of Future Food.” The core of the proposed technology is to harness synthetic microbial consortia – a combination of natural and rationally engineered microorganisms – to convert waste into proteins that are non-toxic, healthy, nutritious, and can be personalised. 

This technology has the potential is to transform waste streams into nutritious food supplements, thus solving the two problems of increasing food scarcity and plastic waste simultaneously.

The project will have four distinct goals: creating a proof of concept for converting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into protein powder; increasing food and environmental biosafety; introducing nutritional and health-promoting contents; including additional plastics or other types of waste.



Date Published: 2nd December 2021

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