Gabriel Sanchez Jr.1, Neil Smith1, Faith Williams1, Taylor Ziccardi1
1 Department of Biomolecular Engineering, UC Santa Cruz
2 Department of Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology, UC Santa Cruz
Plastic bed mulches are vital in the agricultural industry for providing UV and water resistance, limiting fumigant emissions, preventing weed growth, and overall increasing crop yields. Most bed mulches on the market are made of polyethylene (PE) plastic and end up in landfills where they pollute local land as they degrade into harmful chemicals. Some degradable mulches are currently on the market, but leave behind microplastics that compromise soil integrity. The Komaplastics project pioneers a design for a biodegradable bed mulch made from bacterial cellulose (BC) produced by Komagataeibacter rhaeticus in order to tackle plastic waste in the agricultural industry. The main obstacle presented in this project is overcoming the high degree of crystallinity of BC that makes the material brittle. To add plasticity and elasticity to the material, we investigated the use of carbohydrate binding modules (CBMs) as an additive to disrupt the hydrogen bonding between BC strands. Additionally, we chemically decrystallized BC and studied the use of various chemical plasticizers as methods of adding plasticity to the material. Our research and design provides stepping stones to the creation of a fully biodegradable bed mulch made from cellulose.