Cutinases pave the way for novel, sustainable materials

Could cutinases, a group of enzymes that has received very little attention so far be the key to new sustainable materials from bark and plastics? Yes, says researchers at the Division of Industrial Biotechnology at Chalmers and here they explain how. 

Would it not be amazing, if there were highly functional material compounds available, that could be derived from a sustainable, abundantly available, and currently under-utilized feedstock in a green process? Bark is an abundantly available side-product of the Scandinavian pulp and paper industries.

And would it not be awesome, if we could degrade commonly used plastics, such as PET, to its building blocks, so that it could be used again?

Cutinases work effectively on hydrophobic materials

”This might sound too good to be true, but it might soon become reality. At Indbio, as part of our efforts in Wallenberg Wood Science Center (WWSC) we are looking into a group of enzymes that has received very little attention so far – the small, yet versatile cutinases. The enzymes can work effectively on large, bulky, and hydrophobic materials, a rare feature in usually water-loving enzymes,” says postdoc Vera Novy

As a result, cutinases can be used to release the highly functional suberin-derived fatty acids from the bark. Or for PET-degradation and recycling. In both cases, monomers become available that can be (re-) polymerized and have applications in the chemical-, pharmaceutical-, and cosmetic industries. A true contribution to a green, circular bioeconomy. 

Select enzymes for effective degradation processes

“In two recently published papers, we are elucidating the natural diversity of cutinases from different organisms and how this diversity relates to how the enzyme functions. Such work is a foundation to be able to select enzymes that can do the job we are targeting,” says Lisbeth Olsson, Professor of Industrial Biotechnology at Chalmers, continuing: 

“ In collaboration with BOKU Wien (Universität für Bodenkultur, Vienna, Austria) and DTU (Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen) we further generated in-depth knowledge on how specific structural features of two bacterial cutinases affect the way the enzyme interacts and degrades PET.”

The research resulting in these interesting results is part of the work towards new and innovative materials that is performed in Wallenberg Wood Science Center​.

Read the scientific papers: 

Page manager Published: Sun 16 Jan 2022.