Vanilla Warfare

Reduce, reuse, recycle…VANILLA?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Plastic wrapping, cups, utensils, oh my! Plastic production is contributing to a global waste crisis! One type of plastic in particular, P.E.T, can be recycled — but it doesn’t break down easily. Is there a sweet solution in your freezer?

Enter Joanna Sadler and Stephen Wallace from the University of Edinburgh. 

First, the researchers heated up P.E.T to break it down into smaller molecules. Next, they modified E. coli bacteria to convert these particles into VANILLIN. That’s the molecule that makes ice cream taste so yummy!! Then they determined the best conditions for the bacteria to produce vanillin.

Results? Bacteria at about seventy-two degrees fahrenheit produced FIVE times more vanillin than at higher temperatures. The team was able to convert almost EIGHTY PERCENT of P.E.T into vanillin!

This new technology may one day convert plastic waste into food-grade vanilla! Who wants an ice cream sandwich?

Here’s an exciting plastics solution that’s anything but “vanilla!” Well, actually — it is.

Reference: Sadler, J. C., & Wallace, S. (2021). Microbial synthesis of vanillin from waste poly(ethylene terephthalate). Green Chemistry.