Professor of Bioengineering University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
The world’s population is expected to increase to 10 billion by 2050; meanwhile, climate change continuously leads to the loss of arable lands for traditional agriculture. To feed a growing population, there is hence a great need to search for novel solutions for food production. One promising alternative is single cell protein (SCP) because it is sustainable and requires less space and water than conventional farming. We harness native and engineered microbial communities along with chemical processing to realize efficient deconstruction and conversion of plastic wastes into SCP as a food source. We have shown that microbial communities can be utilized to convert chemically deconstructed polyethylene terephthalate into microbial biomass that serves as a food source. We also demonstrated that engineered consortia can enrich the quality of the products by producing nutritional factors including glutamine and omega-3 fatty acids and further improve food safety by creating strains that secret food preservatives. Furthermore, we have developed methods for evaluating SCP products using assays with the nematode worm C. elegans. Our results demonstrate that converting waste streams to microbial biomass is a promising, alternative way for food production.