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Bacteria may be key to sustainable nylon production

Scientists are creating adipic acid without the byproduct of greenhouse gases

Edinburgh, Scotland – The discovery that bacteria that can be used to make a key chemical used in nylon manufacturing could allow for the creation of this component without the emission of greenhouse gases.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have developed a sustainable method for making adipic acid, which is a key component of nylon. The scientists altered the genetic code of E.coli. The modified cells were grown in liquid solutions containing guaiacol, which is the main component of the compound that gives plants their shape. Following a 24-hour incubation period, the modified bacteria transformed the guaiacol into adipic acid, but without producing nitrous oxide.

The researchers at the Wallace Lab are looking to scale up production of adipic acid to an industrial scale. Current industrial production of adipic acid relies on fossil fuels and produces large amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

“I am really excited by these results,” said Jack Suitor, PhD student at the university’s School of Biological Sciences. “It is the first time adipic acid has been made directly from guaiacol, which is one of the largest untapped renewable resources on the planet. This could entirely change how nylon is made.”

More than 2 million metric tons of nylon, which is used in rugs, furniture and clothing, is produced globally each year.

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