Biological Sciences

iGEM Overgrad Team – Turning whisky by-products into bioplastics

With iGEM season well underway, we again are supporting two teams to ask questions and find solutions in synthetic biology.

Our overgrad team recognised that much of the current plastic economy is produced using petroleum-based technologies. The University of Edinburgh Overgraduate iGEM team this year is looking at making bioplastics. 

They want to look at a more innovative source for useful biodegradable plastics. The plastic of choice is called poly(hydroxybutyrate-co-hydroxyvalerate) or PHBV. 

PHBV holds a lot of promise because of its physical properties and can fit into the current plastic market. By using bio-mass, waste, or secondary carbon sources they are looking to decouple plastic production from petroleum. 

They are hoping to use a by-product from whisky distilleries, namely pot ale, to produce this plastic. 

PHBV can also be biodegraded unlike most currently used plastics reducing the amount of waste thrown into the environment. 

To create this plastic, our team are trying to introduce enzymes into Escherichia coli to facilitate the production of PHBV efficiently. 

This involves introducing genes from organisms that naturally produce PHBV and improving the efficiency of the pathway.  

In addition to the lab work, they use models to help improve lab work and focus their labour. 

The team is also working on looking at the overall impact of the production of this type of product through a life cycle assessment. 

This assessment adds an engineering concept to this project by analysing the sustainability of the production of PHBV. 

By combining these aspects of our project, we hope to help improve the production and source of bioplastics.

The team are always interested in new perspectives, so if you’d like to meet them, please contact