Abstract: Implementation of PHA bio-plastic to improve stream and runoff water quality

Last year, I began working in Dr. Randy Chambers’ lab with polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), organic material produced by certain kinds of bacteria under conditions of high carbon availability and low nutrient presence. Bacteria sequester this carbon polymer product and can use it as an energy source for growth. When removed from the bacteria that produced it, polyhydroxyalkanoates are readily combined with other materials to produce PHA polymer-blends as a kind of ‘bioplastic.’ There are many potential applications of PHA-based products, and therefore research on the material is gaining popularity. For example, this biodegradable material could be invaluable to reducing petroleum-based plastic waste. As another example, when placed in stream water, the naturally occurring bacteria could use the PHA polymer as a carbon source and eliminate excess nutrients via processes like denitrification. This summer, I hope to assess the potential for PHA use by bacteria in water quality improvement efforts and answer the question of the material’s effectiveness and the significance of its impact. 

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