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Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Second Faculty Mentor
The global accumulation of plastic waste is an environmental disaster, with one of the most common plastics being the packaging material poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). Cutin is a polymer that makes up plants’ waxy surface and shares many structural similarities with PET, such that previous studies have found mesophilic (moderate temperature) bacteria that break down cutin are also able to degrade PET plastics. Thus, the objective was to test whether thermophilic bacteria can degrade cutin, with the goal being to eventually test it with PET plastic. Cutin samples were added to a growth medium containing 2% palmitic acid to encourage cutin degradation along with either sterilized or live compost. As the live compost was the source of the bacteria, the sterile culture served as a control. Over time, one live sample showed a noticeable visual change indicative of higher level of microbe activity. In order to test its success, two more cultures were made using the existing microbes and a third cutin sample to assess the effect of the palmitic acid in the growth medium. Small portions of each culture were taken thrice weekly throughout the entire experiment and analyzed via gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to monitor the degradation process. In our results, thermophilic bacteria appear to be successfully degrading cutin, as demonstrated with an increased production of palmitic acid in the live sample in comparison to the sterile sample for cutin sample 16 (C16). Beyond this, there were multiple monomers present in the live sample than were absent in the sterile culture and even the absence of any initial palmitic acid still resulted in the production of some being present in the culture later on. Qualitative and quantitative studies of the degradation process will continue in future semesters, along with studies on to quantify and optimize the process.
Zubler, Samantha, "A Preliminary Investigation Into the Potential Degradation of Cutin via Thermophilic Microbes" (2021). Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Summer Fellows. 23.
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