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ORNL’s Adam Guss and colleagues used synthetic biology to develop a custom microbe capable of converting deconstructed mixed plastic waste into valuable new materials. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Scientists working on a solution for plastic waste have developed a two-step chemical and biological process to break down and upcycle mixed plastics into valuable bioproducts.

ORNL scientists created a new microbial trait mapping process that improves on classical protoplast fusion techniques to identify the genes that trigger desirable genetic traits like improved biomass processing. Credit: Nathan Armistead/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy. Reprinted with the permission of Oxford University Press, publisher of Nucleic Acids Research

ORNL scientists had a problem mapping the genomes of bacteria to better understand the origins of their physical traits and improve their function for bioenergy production.

Scientists from LanzaTech, Northwestern University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory engineered a microbe, shown in light blue, to convert molecules of industrial waste gases, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, into acetone. The same microbe can also make isopropanol. Credit: Andy Sproles/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of scientists from LanzaTech, Northwestern University and ORNL have developed carbon capture technology that harnesses emissions from industrial processes to produce acetone and isopropanol

ORNL’s biosensor system reveals CRISPR activity in poplar plants, which glow bright green under ultraviolet light, compared to normal plants, which appear red. Credit: Guoliang Yuan/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Detecting the activity of CRISPR gene editing tools in organisms with the naked eye and an ultraviolet flashlight is now possible using technology developed at ORNL. 

Carrie Eckert

Carrie Eckert applies her skills as a synthetic biologist at ORNL to turn microorganisms into tiny factories that produce a variety of valuable fuels, chemicals and materials for the growing bioeconomy.

ORNL metabolic engineer Adam Guss develops genetic tools to modify microbes that can perform a range of processes needed to create sustainable biofuels and bioproducts. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

As a metabolic engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Adam Guss modifies microbes to perform the diverse processes needed to make sustainable biofuels and bioproducts.

ORNL’s Josh Michener, a microbiologist and metabolic engineer, led the discovery of a useful new enzyme that breaks down stubborn bonds in lignin, a polymer found in plants that typically becomes waste during bioconversion. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

In a step toward increasing the cost-effectiveness of renewable biofuels and bioproducts, scientists at ORNL discovered a microbial enzyme that degrades tough-to-break bonds in lignin, a waste product of biorefineries.

Scientists genetically engineered bacteria for itaconic acid production, creating dynamic controls that separate microbial growth and production phases for increased efficiency and acid yield. Credit: NREL

A research team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory bioengineered a microbe to efficiently turn waste into itaconic acid, an industrial chemical used in plastics and paints.

Researchers Adam Guss and Melissa Tumen-Velasquez work with microbes to understand how the organisms consume plastics and break them into chemical components that can be used to make higher-value products.

From soda bottles to car bumpers to piping, electronics, and packaging, plastics have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. 

ORNL scientists have optimized the Pseudomonas putida bacterium to digest five of the most abundant components of lignocellulosic biomass simultaneously, supporting a highly efficient conversion process to create renewable fuels and chemicals from plants. Credit: Alli Werner/NREL,U.S. Dept of Energy

ORNL scientists have modified a single microbe to simultaneously digest five of the most abundant components of lignocellulosic biomass, a big step forward in the development of a cost-effective biochemical conversion process to turn plants into renewable fuels and chemicals.