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Plastic to be Culled From Plants

Our dependence on oil extends far beyond our fuel needs. Petroleum is not only processed into gasoline, but it's also the base component for plastics and other modern polymers. The solution, of course, is to find an alternate source for making polymers. One scientist thinks we should turn to plants for the answer.

Biochemist John Shanklin's work at the Brookhaven National Labs involves genetically engineering plants to produce the chemical building blocks for making plastic. Dr. Shanklin is particularly interested in a type of fatty acid, called omega-7, that could serve this purpose. Although omega-7 occurs naturally in plants, the normal yield is not sufficient for mass production.

Working with a plant called Arabidopsis, Shanklin and his team tried to boost the plant's capacity for making the much-needed oils. They've finally engineered a strain that has a 71% accumulation of omega-7, about the same levels found in cat's claw vine. Shanklin hopes that this proof of concept will lead to a new sustainable source of polymers that is literally green.

[source: Brookhaven National Lab]