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A Solution to the Plastic Pollution Problem

“Preparing and Analyzing Cutin as a Model for Bacterial Plastic Digestion”

Samantha Zubler ’22
Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Mentor: Eric Williamsen, associate professor of chemistry

In order to help researchers and environmentalists make headway in removing the plastic pollution that plagues our landfills and oceans, Samantha Zubler ’22 is seeking to make a discovery: thermophilic bacteria that can “eat” plastic materials.

“In order to do this, I have been isolating a protein called cutin, which is commonly found in fruit skins, such as apple peels,” Zubler said. “It has been found that mesophilic bacteria that can breakdown cutin are also able to breakdown PET plastic, which makes up a vast majority of plastic packaging and contributes a great deal to the plastic pollution issue currently plaguing the planet.”

Even though there are some mesophilic bacteria that can degrade cutin and plastic, it has also been found that—in most cases—thermophilic microbes can degrade proteins faster than mesophilic bacteria.

The Passion Behind the Project

“I care about this project because I care about the condition of our planet,” Zubler said. “I am doing by best to contribute to a research project that will hopefully be a step in the right direction towards fixing the polluted mess that we have created.”

“I have always subscribed to the philosophy that many people contributing small things can results in enormous results. I care about building a better life and a cleaner world for those who will come after me. It is one of my biggest dreams to see the pollution start being thoroughly cleaned up sometimes within my lifetime, and if bacteria and microbes are the thing that finally does it, I will gladly say that I contributed one tiny stepping stone on the road to that success,” she said. 

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