Will industrial microbiologists become more important in the development of plastics than petroleum engineers and geologists?
Maybe. And it may not be all that far off.
There are already hints of this. The earliest bioplastics were natural products like starches. Increasingly, they are highly engineered with microorganisms. DuPont announced four years ago that more than half of its plastics and chemical monomers would be made from renewable resources within the next 17 years. Two years ago, DuPont confirmed it was working on development of whole new families of plastics based on renewable resources as part of the program.
Yeast has already been altered to consume plant matter and excrete ethanol, which could pave the way to replacing petrochemicals. There are many other examples.
Now comes the announcement that BASF has reached a global licensing agreement with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology to improve products in agricultural and industrial microbiology applications.
BASF said the technology advances genome editing because it is a simpler and more precise tool for making targeted changes to a cell’s DNA. It may make the production of plastics from plants more efficient and less costly.
“The CRISPR-Cas9 technology is a game changer within the field of genome editing,” says Peter Eckes, president of BASF Bioscience Research. “We are eager to see the new ways it will augment our research and improve multiple products for agriculture as well as numerous industrial applications.”