Student: Efrain Rodriguez-Ocasio, graduate student in Chemical Engineering, Iowa State University
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Laura Jarboe
Production of Macronutrients from Thermally Oxo-Degraded Wastes
The goal of the project is to convert plastic and paper wastes into food for human consumption. The strategy to make this possible is to combine thermal oxo-degradation to break down the wastes and metabolic engineering to develop yeast strains capable of using those molecules as the sole carbon source. The yeast biomass could ultimately provide the necessary nutrients to sustain life. The approach could also be employed to produce fuels and chemicals instead of macronutrients, tailoring to the needs of the mission. My work focuses on the metabolic engineering efforts to program the microorganism to produce macronutrients. Proof of concept was successfully completed with HDPE, the world’s most common plastic, and it is being expanded to other types of wastes. I am also studying the underlaying mechanisms of uptake for TOD products and optimizing the strain for faster bioconversion. This technology could help facilitate Human Exploration in Deep Space (NASA Strategic Objective 2.2). Specifically, this research is aligned to the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s goal of sustaining life outside Earth. It is also relevant to the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s goal of offsetting future mission risk and reducing costs by converting wastes into valuable resources during space exploration, reducing the need to transport all materials from Earth.