Scientists say this E. coli won’t make you sick and could be good for the planet

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Plastic has been discovered at the bottom of the ocean, at the top of the Himalayasembedded in Arctic sea ice and swirling in the air around us.

It is an environmental crisis that has spurred the creation of a number of plastic substitutes, many made from plants and advertised as compostable or biodegradable, though studies have shown some versions may not be either.

Now a team of scientists says it has created a possible alternative using a bacteria better known for turning stomachs. The material, which they call “aquaplastic,” is derived from Escherichia coli, or E. coli.

The bacteria lives in the gut but when ingested through contaminated food or water can land someone in the emergency room.

Using genetically engineered E. coli, scientists from Northeastern University, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and elsewhere say they turned E. coli into a plastic that can be made into plastic film or bendable three-dimensional molds for cones, bowls, tubes or other structures. The plastic substitute almost completely dissolves in 45 days, according to a study published last month in Nature Chemical Biology.

They fed the E. coli a nutrient-rich material that enabled it to produce two types of “aquagels,” flexible material they used to make different forms of aquaplastics.

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