A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Microplastics Research

From the University College of London


Welcome to the UCL 2012 iGEM project.
This is a wiki-in-progress, keep checking back for updated content and project news.

Plastic Republic - Constructing An Island From Microplastic Waste

Turning a Global Problem into a Valuable Resource: We Aim to Engineer Bacteria to Aggregate Tonnes of Microplastic Pollution into ‘Plastic Islands’, in order to Reclaim Plastic for Re-Use.


There are numerous regions of the ocean with an accumulation of microplastic pollution. Plastic is estimated to account for 60-80% of marine debris, where the majority accumulate in gyres, centres of subtropical and anti-cyclonic currents. Microplastics are a result of release of plastic waste into the oceans. The waste in the gyres enter the digestive systems of resident organism, which are affected either by the physical size of the plastic or its toxicity from adsorbing organic pollutants.


Our team came up with three modules that aim to solve the micro-plastic pollution in the marine environment. We are engineering bacteria to be able to detect and aggregate micro-plastics into larger pieces to facilitate removal. For the micro-plastics that cannot be aggregated we have an alternative approach which is to degrade the micro-plastics. We are pursuing these as three separate modules which we will assemble once we have tested their competence.

Detection Module

Receptors based detection is a first step for both aggregation and degradation. The main receptor is human oestrogen receptor that binds to different types of micro-plastics.

Aggregation Module

In the case of aggregation, receptors on bacteria detect micro-plastics and induce the production of sticky extensions of cell membrane. First this allows bacteria stick to the plastics and once covered in bacteria allows micro-plastics to stick to one another.

Degredation Module

The degradation module, which is separate from aggregation module, also comes after receptor detection. This system metabolizes the micro-plastics and their derivatives that are otherwise toxic to the environment. As a result of degradation these materials are converted into non-toxic ones.

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