Merging Plastics, Microbes, and Enzymes: Highlights from an International Workshop


In the Anthropocene, plastic pollution is a worldwide concern that must be tackled from different viewpoints, bringing together different areas of science. Microbial transformation of polymers is a broad-spectrum research topic that has become a keystone in the circular economy of fossil-based and biobased plastics. To have an open discussion about these themes, experts in the synthesis of polymers and biodegradation of lignocellulose and plastics convened within the framework of The Transnational Network for Research and Innovation in Microbial Biodiversity, Enzymes Technology and Polymer Science (MENZYPOL-NET), which was recently created by early-stage scientists from Colombia and Germany. In this context, the international workshop “Microbial Synthesis and Degradation of Polymers: Toward a Sustainable Bioeconomy” was held on 27 September 2021 via Zoom. The workshop was divided into two sections, and questions were raised for discussion with panelists and expert guests. Several key points and relevant perspectives were delivered, mainly related to (i) the microbial evolution driven by plastic pollution; (ii) the relevance of and interplay between polymer structure/composition, enzymatic mechanisms, and assessment methods in plastic biodegradation; (iii) the recycling and valorization of plastic waste; (iv) engineered plastic-degrading enzymes; (v) the impact of (micro)plastics on environmental microbiomes; (vi) the isolation of plastic-degrading (PD) microbes and design of PD microbial consortia; and (vii) the synthesis and applications of biobased plastics. Finally, research priorities from these key points were identified within the microbial, enzyme, and polymer sciences.
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