What's The Problem?
The agricultural industry contributes 816 million pounds of plastic waste each year, so there is a pressing need for a better mulch alternative.
California in particular produces 80% of the United States’ strawberries and caneberries.
Strawberries require bed mulches in order to grow successfully. Since our team is based in Santa Cruz, California and there are multiple strawberry fields around our campus, we felt a personal connection to the need to replace plastic bed mulches.
Biodegradable bed mulches are also offered on the market, but leave behind microplastics that pollute soil, something growers are not happy with.
We designed a method to create a biodegradeable bed mulch from bacterial cellulose. This plastic can be tilled into the soil at the end of the growing season without causing harm to the field or the environment!
MAKE BACTERIAL CELLULOSE → DECRYSTALIZE CELLULOSE USING CARBOHYDRATE BINDING MODULES → ATTACH PLASTICIZER TO MAKE CELLULOSE ELASTIC
BC is a highly crystalline molecule due to hydrogen bonds between the hydroxyl groups on its cellulose fibrils.
We have designed carbohydrate binding module (CBM) fusion proteins that can interrupt these hydrogen bonds by binding to the fibrils
Our team also has investigated many plasticizing molecules to add to the CBM protein. The combination of a CBM and a plasticizing molecule will effectively transform crystalline bacterial cellulose into a plastic. Our design effectively creates the blueprint for production of a biodegradable plastic in a biological system.