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November 3, 2023

Researchers Find a New Life for Nylon

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on October 25, 2023, that scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have developed biosensing technology that can help address the problem of plastic waste, specifically nylon-based waste, such as textiles, carpets, tires, and fishing nets. According to BETO, these and other products “are typically made from nylon-66, a common, very tough nylon made of a polymer building block called adipic acid (ADA).” BETO notes that the petroleum-based production of ADA releases the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into the environment and that degrading, or depolymerizing, nylon using biocatalysts “could pave the way to reducing nylon waste in landfills and oceans and enable recycling nylon building blocks into new products without the release of nitrous oxide.” The article, “Tackling the Catch-22 Situation of Optimizing a Sensor and a Transporter System in a Whole-Cell Microbial Biosensor Design for an Anthropogenic Small Molecule,” published in ACS Synthetic Biology, addresses the challenge of finding biocatalysts for anthropogenic molecules and optimizing them for industrial use. BETO states that “[t]he award-winning whole cell biosensor technology developed at LANL can rapidly screen candidate biocatalysts.” The biosensor uses a bacterial cell host, such as Pseudomonas putida, and includes two target-specific recognition proteins: a transporter and a transcription factor.