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New Drug Eases Ulcers in Critically Ill Patients

Plastic from Plants Could Spur Biodegradable Bonanza

Plastic from Plants Could Spur Biodegradable Bonanza

Brian Mooney, an MU research assistant professor of biochemistry, is working to enhance a system of agricultural plastic production that would create new market opportunities for corn and soybeans while reducing plastic in landfills. "Each year, 25 million tons of plastic end up in U.S. landfills," Mooney says. "If we can replace some petroleum-based plastics with those made from a non-polluting, renewable resource such as plants, we can reduce that number and create new income for farmers." The plastic Mooney hopes to produce is polyhydroxybutyrate-valerate, or PHBV, which is similar to petroleum-based plastic. "It's flexible and moldable, and could be used to produce a wide range of products, from grocery bags and soda bottles to disposable razors and flatware," he says. "The advantage of PHBV is that it's 100 percent biodegradable."

In the mid-1990s, Monsanto successfully produced PHBV in plants, which the company called BIOPOL, Mooney says. "But they were only able to produce it in small quantities, about 3 percent dry weight. In order to be commercially viable, 14 percent or more is considered the threshold." Mooney seeks to break this threshold by designing plants that produce raw materials for PHBV within leaf cells. His work is supported by a grant from the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, a non-profit partnership of universities and private industry.

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