Production of Biodegradable Plastic Protein-based Polymers in Plants

Period of Performance: 07/29/1997 - 01/31/1998


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

Bioelastics Research, Ltd.
Birmingham, AL 35211
Principal Investigator
Firm POC

Research Institution

Auburn University
310 Samford Hall
Auburn, AL 36849
Institution POC


Contemporary petroleum-based plastics derive from a non-renewable resource and present environmental problems both in their production and disposal. Desirable would be plastics obtainable from renewable resources and of benignproduction and disposal. Protein-based polymers, polymers of repeating peptide sequences, have been produced using recombinant DNA technology and expressed in both E. coli and tobacco plants. With the correct sequence and composition, the protein-based polymers can be regular and inverse thermoplastic. The latter provides the potential for programmed biodegradation with half-lives ranging from days to decades, and the former allows that the polymers can be processed as melts (e.g. for injection molding and fiber extrusion). Thus, the broad objective of this proposal is for plant reproduction of programmable, biodegradable plastics. The technical objectives are: 1) to use recombinant DNA technology for achieving high level expression in E. coli of suitably designed plastic protein-based polymers, 2) to utilize the purified protein-based polymers for physical characterization of melting points, decomposition points, tensile strengths, half-livesetc., 3) to produce monoclonal antibodies to the chosen E. coli-produced protein-based polymers in order to follow expression in the tobacco plant, and 4) To develop producion in tobacco plants of the preferred plastic protein-based polymers that had demonstrated both the desired physical properties and high level expression by E. coli fermentation. Environmental problems require the development of biodegradable plastics which can be produced from renewable resources without use of toxic and hazardous chemicals and which will help to solve the increasing global disposal burden. The extent of this need is expressed in the Maritime Pollution (MARPOL) treaty preventing disposal of plastics at sea as of 1995, and in the Plastic, Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-220). It is quite apparent that biodegradable plastics would gracefully become a source of food rather than a cause of death for marine life. Furthermore, the demand for an agricultural product of the scale of a range of biodegradable plastics could