2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Program Participant

Home Department: Bioengineering
Mentor: Jennifer Cochran (Bioengineering)

“Leveraging Enzyme Engineering to Make Plastic More Biodegradable”

The goal of the project is to aid the plastic pollution crisis by engineering a novel enzyme that can efficiently break down polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic commonly heralded as biodegradable replacement for mainstream plastics. Its biodegradation rate is negligible under typical conditions, leading to concern regarding its disposal and subsequent downstream environmental effects. Using an enzyme that is found in nature and has been shown to slowly degrade PLA, Celia is performing a high-throughput screen of thousands of mutants to improve its ability to degrade PLA. Mutations most beneficially altering the enzyme’s PLA degrading activity will be combined to create super-mutants. Celia will then iterate on these super-mutant enzymes through multiple rounds of mutation, comparing their activity with the wild-type enzyme and identifying any important new mutations through sequencing. She plans to go through this screening process several times during the summer, with the hope of continuing this research after the Bio-X program.