Engineered Plants Could Be Precursor to Raw Plastics Material

In theory, plants could be the ultimate “green” factories, engineered to pump out the kinds of raw materials we now obtain from petroleum-based chemicals. In reality, its been an elusive goal.

Now, in a first step toward achieving industrial-scale green production, scientists from the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Lab and their collaborators report engineering a plant that does produce the levels of compounds that could potentially be used to make plastics. The raw materials for most precursors currently come from petroleum or coal-derived synthetic gas.

Additional technology is needed, but researchers say they’ve now engineered a new metabolic pathway in plants for producing a kind of fatty acid that can be used as a source of precursors to chemical building blocks for making plastics such as polyethylene.