Molecular recycling of plastics: metagenomics and protein engineering for PET, PE and PP degradation

Prof John ward (primary)
Biochemical Engineering
Prof Helen Hailes (secondary)


The molecular recycling of plastic polymers using enzymes and engineered pathways will be carried out. Thermophilic enzymes and microbial hosts will be used to break down the polymers polyethyleneterephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). We have begun to build enzyme systems to break down PET using new PETases and combine these with microbial pathways to either generate terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol or to modify the aromatic structures to higher value compounds. Similar approaches will be carried out with potent oxidative systems to insert oxygen/hydroxyls into the highly recalcitrant PE and PP polymers.


– Jeffries, J, Dawson N, Orengo C, Moody T, Quinn DJ, Hailes HC and Ward JM. (2016) Metagenome Mining: A Sequence Directed Strategy for the Retrieval of Enzymes for Biocatalysis. Chemistry Select. 1. 2217-2220.
– Baud D, Jeffries JWE, Moody TS, Ward JM and Hailes HC (2017) A metagenomics approach for new biocatalyst discovery: application to transaminases and the
synthesis of allylic amines. Green Chemistry. 19. 1134-1143.
– Leipold L, Dobrijevic D, Jeffries JWE, Bawn M, Moody TS, Ward JM, and Hailes HC (2018) The identification and use of robust transaminases from a domestic drain metagenome. Green Chemistry 21: 75-86.
– C├írdenas-Fern├índez M, Hamley-Bennett C, Bharat PKV, Subrizi F, Suhaili N, Ward DP, Bourdin S, Dalby PA, Hailes HC, Hewitson P, Ignatova S, Kontoravdi C, Leak DJ, Shah N, Sheppard TD, Ward JM, Lye GJ. (2017) An integrated biorefinery concept for conversion of sugar beet pulp into value-added chemicals and pharmaceutical intermediates. Faraday Discuss. 202. 415-431.
– Subrizi F, Benhamou L, Ward JM, Sheppard TD, Hailes HC. (2019) Aminopolyols from Carbohydrates: Amination of Sugars and Sugar-Derived Tetrahydrofurans with Transaminases. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 58:3854-3858.

Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology
Area of Biology
BiotechnologyStructural Biology
Techniques & Approaches
BiochemistryBiophysicsChemistryMolecular Biology