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Updated: Metabolix experiments with tobacco plants for PHA production

Bioresin manufacturer Metabolix Inc. (Cambridge, MA) has genetically engineered tobacco to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) as it works to create non-food sources for biobased polymers. Under a permit from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to perform an open-air field trial in March of 2009, Metabolix completed field-trial experiments in early October. The trial was undertaken on 0.8 acres of land, with the best plants producing 3-5% PHA.

PlasticsToday Staff

October 22, 2009

2 Min Read
Updated: Metabolix experiments with tobacco plants for PHA production

(Cambridge, MA) has genetically engineered tobacco to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) as it works to create non-food sources for biobased polymers. Under a permit from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to perform an open-air field trial in March of 2009, Metabolix completed field-trial experiments in early October. The trial was undertaken on 0.8 acres of land, with the best plants producing 3-5% PHA. Metabolix said that the trial provided valuable data and information relating to polymer production, adding that the research “furthers development of Metabolix crop technologies for the co-production of biobased plastics in non-food bioenergy crops.”

In a release, Oliver Peoples, chief scientific officer of Metabolix said, “We believe that our crop programs offer a number of commercialization options and hold significant potential,” citing non-food oilseed and biomass crops. Metabolix, which is continuing to develop and commercialize its Mirel family of bioplastics, is also developing a platform technology for co-producing plastics, chemicals, and energy from crops such as switchgrass, oilseeds, and sugarcane.

Last September, Metabolix published an update in Plant Biotechnology Journal on its switchgrass program, stating experiments had yielded about 3.72% dry weight PHB in the leaves and 1.23% dry weight in the switchgrass plant as a whole. The company’s stated goal would be to yield about 7.5% dry weight from the plant—a benchmark that would make the technology economical for full-scale commercial production. 

Last year, Dow Chemical and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced joint research to pursue non-food biomass routes for fuels and chemicals, including corn stover. While starch-based bioresins like polylactic acid have gained a foothold in the burgeoning marketplace, some have voiced opposition to using food crops for the creation of chemical and fuels. —[email protected]

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