As we know, the plastic pollution in the ocean is severe and it is threatening the marine animals’ lives, we tried to seek out ways to deal with the problems. We find out PET waste can be broken down more effectively using cutinases. Therefore, we have done research on different cutinases like Tfcut2, HIC and LCC and studied some physical properties of them. We imagine incorporating cutinase gene into symbiotic GM bacteria and introducing them into their bivalve symbionts. The cutinase expressed can then help the breakdown of microplastic, this can help to reduce microplastic in aquatic ecosystems.
In our project, we designed experiments in two phases. In phase 1, we would introduce plasmid carrying each of our target cutinase gene into E.coli and test for the efficiency of different cutinases expressed. In Phase 2, we will select symbiotic bacteria from local bivalves and introduce the Phase 1 GM bacteria that carry the most efficient cutinase gene into the bivalves, and assess their microplastic degradation abilities.
Our Human Practice team members built a survey to study people’s understanding of plastic pollution, their plastic use habits and their opinion on our project. Over 120 participants sent back replies and the survey results provided valuable support to our members and inspired us to come up with some new ideas.
We have also conducted an interview with Professor King L. Chow of Life Science at HKUST on the Zoom platform. He evaluated our design and project and expressed his reservation on the idea of incorporating a symbiotic GM bacteria into bivalves to put our cutinase work in nature. Instead, Professor Chow suggested incorporating the enzymes into a vessel packed with the GM E.coli or simply the cutinases, to serve as a biofilter. He also pointed out some shortcomings of our project and suggested some directions to do continuous research. We learnt a lot from the interview and realized there are still many problems and practical concerns we need to tackle, especially on the biosafety and biosecurity aspects. All of the experience help us to clear our path and give us valuable insights to plan for future studies.
After the interview, we started to improve our project by doing more research on papers related to cutinases like TfH. We have also designed a solar device which put our Phase 1 enzyme products in work to breakdown microplastics. We would modify and design more prototypes and figure out which one is the most effective and can be easily built with reasonable price.