Vanilla ice cream is many people’s favorite summer snack, but if you found out that it could be created from plastic, would you still eat it?
A recent study shows that scientists have developed a technique to turn plastic waste into vanilla flavoring using genetically modified bacteria.
Vanillin, the compound responsible for most of the vanilla’s aroma and flavor, can be obtained from vanilla pods naturally, or also it could be synthesized.
According to The Guardian, approximately 85% of all vanillin is now produced from chemicals obtained from fossil fuels.
The need for vanillin is increasing as it’s present in many groceries, toiletries, medications, cleaning materials, and pesticides. The global market for vanillin in 2018 was approximately 40,800 tons, and it is predicted to expand to 65,000 tons by 2025.
Scientists have turned to synthetic vanillin production because the vanillin demand exceeds the availability of vanilla beans.
Researchers developed a revolutionary method for converting waste generated from plastic into vanillin, both for supply and reducing plastic pollution.
Prior research showed how to degrade plastic bottles manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate into their primary component, terephthalic acid.
Two scientists from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland genetically altered E. coli bacteria to convert terephthalic acid to vanillin.
Vanillin and terephthalic have relatively composition similarities, and the modified bacteria simply need to change the number of oxygens and hydrogens attached to the same carbon backbone.
The researchers combined their genetically altered bacteria with terephthalic acid and held them at exactly 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for a day. Approximately 79% of the terephthalic acid was then transformed into vanillin.
According to The Guardian, every minute around 1 million plastic bottles are sold globally, with only 14% being recycled. In the U.S. alone, 35 billion plastic bottles are thrown away every year, and only 25% are recycled.
Unless something changes, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. That is why researchers must reduce plastic pollution as they modify the bacteria to convert more terephthalic acid into vanillin.
Currently, recycled plastic bottles can only be used to make fibers for clothes or carpets. However, using microbes to convert harmful waste plastic into a vital product is a magnificent example of green chemistry.