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Materials Improved PHA

Materials Improved PHA Production in Tobacco Research Furthers Potential for Biobased Plastics and Chemicals in Non-Food Bioenergy Crops Metabolix, Inc. from Cambridge, Massachussetts, USA recently announced the publication of its most recent scientific achievements in the development of advanced genetic engineering approaches to achieve high levels of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) in non-food biomass crops. The plastid genome of the research crop tobacco was engineered using Metabolix’s multi-gene expression technology, resulting in fertile transgenic plants producing PHA at levels of up to 9% of the total plant weight. PHA levels of up to 17% were found in leaf tissue. Metabolix’s engineered tobacco plants produce ten times more PHA bioplastic than previously published reports for tobacco. These findings continue to demonstrate the Company’s ground-breaking scientific capabilities and continued progress on using new tools to improve its programs to develop advanced biomass crops as biorefinery feedstocks. A detailed scientific paper entitled ‘High levels of bioplastic are produced in fertile transplastomic tobacco plants engineered with a synthetic operon for production of polyhydroxybutyrate’ was published online in Plant Physiology, a peer-reviewed journal from the American Society of Plant Biologists, on February 16, 2011. The article also appears in the April 2011 print edition of the journal focused on plastid biology and can be downloaded as complete pdf file from (as long as provided by the original publisher) PHAs are a family of renewable polymeric carbon storage materials, which have a broad range of industrial applications as performance, biodegradable bioplastics and as renewable starting materials for the production of a number of existing specialty and commodity chemicals. As polymers, PHA bioplastics offer excellent performance in use and have the unique ability to biodegrade in a wide range of environments including compost, soil, wetlands, marine and anaerobic digestion facilities. As a starting material for the production of renewable chemicals, PHAs offer exceptional, highly efficient, low cost recovery and conversion opportunities for the production of a number of specialty and commodity chemicals. By producing PHAs directly in biomass crops, Metabolix plans to further improve the cost benefits, lifecycle performance and scale potential of renewable resourcebased industrial products. “The demonstration of this new approach to increase PHA production in the model biomass crop tobacco is an important milestone in further demonstrating the scientific and technical capabilities of the Company in the crop science field. This also represents continued progress towards our longer term objective for the biomass crop program and the recognition of our research by a peer-reviewed journal,” said Dr. Oliver Peoples, Chief Scientific Officer and vice president of Research and Development at Metabolix. “This work provides us with important new data and tools for the production of PHAs in plants as we continue to develop other targeted commercial crops including switchgrass.” TEM-picture of PHA granules in tobacco (Photo: Dale Callaham, Central Microscopy Facility of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst) 38 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/11] Vol. 6

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