Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2020-2021)

By 2025, we may be throwing away over 2.2 billion tons of plastics each year. There is an urgent need to develop novel strategies to combat bioaccumulation of plastics. To address this need, researchers recently identified a bacterium that had evolved two enzymes, PETase and MHETase, which together convert plastic into biodegradable products. These enzymes represent powerful new tools for bioremediation efforts.

In its second year of work, this project team leveraged newly identified enzymes to create a lab strain of bacteria capable of rapidly degrading plastic to restore environmental health and conserve marine biodiversity. Team members used adaptive selection to identify high-efficiency plastic-degrading enzymes, identify additional plastic-degrading enzymes and test if plastic acts as a carrier for environmental toxins. This work creates a new way to protect oceans and conserve biodiversity.

Timing

Fall 2020 – Summer 2021

Team Outputs

Janet Bering, Henry Gargan, Jess Kuesel, Maria Morrison, Claire Mullaney, Andrew J.Read, Stephen E. Roady, Addyson Rowe. "Will unilateral action improve the global conservation status of marine mammals? A first analysis of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act’s Import Provisions Rule." 2021. Marine Policy.

Developing a Strain of Bacteria to Degrade Plastic Waste (2021 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Identification and Characterization of Potential Plastic-degrading Enzymes in Microbial Genomes (poster by Zachary Weishampel, Serafina Turner, Jason A. Somarelli, William Eward)

Plastic Additives and Their Unknown Dangers to Human Health (poster by Margaret Morrison, Beatrice Schleupner, Sophie Vincoff, Zoie Diana and Jason A. Somarelli)

Quantifying PET Hydrolysis by Ideonella sakaiens Using a Fluorescence Assay Based ont he Iron (II)-catalyzed Radical Hydroxylation of Terephthalic Acid (TPA) (poster by Justin Yang, Sarah Hoskinson, Hailey Brighton, Jason Somarelli and William Eward)

A Dangerous Taste for Plastic in the Ocean Depths (by Zoie Diana)

Reflections

Sarah Kwartler

This Team in the News

Three Environmental Pathways Through Bass Connections

Somarelli Joins Leadership of New AACR Cancer Evolution Working Group

Somarelli Selected for Inaugural Bass Connections Leadership Award

Two Faculty Receive Inaugural Bass Connections Leadership Award

See related teams, Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2021-2022) and Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2019-2020).

 

Image: Plastic pollution covering Accra beach, by Muntaka Chasant, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Trash on beach.

Team Leaders

  • Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • William Eward, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Thomas Schultz, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology

/graduate Team Members

  • Niki Clearly, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management
  • Kimberly Corcoran, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management
  • Zoie Diana, Marine Sci & Conservation-PHD
  • Margaret Morrison, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Sarah Kwartler, Biology (BS)
  • Chloe Meyers
  • Beatrice Schleupner, Biology (BS)
  • Serafina Turner, Computer Science (BS)
  • Sophie Vincoff, Biomedical Engineering (BSE), Computer Science (BSE2)
  • Zachary Weishampel, Biology (BS)
  • Justin Yang, Chemistry (BS)
  • Newland Zhang, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Hailey Brighton, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Xia Meng Howey, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology
  • Andrew Read, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Stephen Roady, Duke Law

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools, City of Medicine Academy
  • North Carolina School of Science and Math
  • STEM in the Park
  • East Durham Children's Initiative
  • Duke University Marine Lab
  • Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
  • Seaworld
  • Busch Gardens Conservation Fund
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Environmental Science Summer Program