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“Life … finds a way”: Degrading and Upcycling Recalcitrant Polymers via Microbial Systems

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Friday, October 14, 2022, 10 am– 11 am

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Chemical Engineering Research Seminar

Kevin Solomon

University of Delaware

Abstract

Microbial chemical factories are sustainable biomanufacturing platforms that complement traditional petrochemical industries by using renewable and/or waste alternative carbon sources. Unconventional microbes that live in exotic environments with high resource competition, such as animal microbiomes, are particularly attractive due to their rich repertoire of enzymes to efficiently process diverse carbon sources and unique capacity to catalyze certain industrial chemistries at scale. However, many of these systems remain poorly characterized with few tools to deploy them for industrial applications. In this talk, I will describe our progress towards the study and engineering of these systems for the use of post-consumer plastics and lignocellulosic biomass. In the first example, I will discuss anaerobic fungi native to large herbivore digestive tracts and describe approaches to deploy them today for direct production of fragrances and solvents from untreated agricultural residues. In the second example, I share our progress towards discovery of powerful enzymes for the degradation of post-consumer plastic wastes such as polypropylene and polystyrene from microbes native to the mealworm gut microbiome.

Bio

Dr. Kevin Solomon is an Assistant Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering from McMaster University (Canada), and an MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT. His work focuses on identifying and developing environmental microbes, viruses and microbiomes and that are well-adapted for applications in sustainability, materials, and health. He has received several research, teaching, and service awards including a US Department of Energy Early Career Award in 2019, an NSF CAREER Award in 2022, the Society of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology (SIMB) Early Career Award in 2022, and an Outstanding Faculty Award from Purdue Residences in 2018. He has provided expert testimony before the 116 th US House of Representatives on the convergence of engineering and biology and has coauthored technology roadmaps for engineering biology. He has also been featured in Forbes magazine. Dr. Solomon’s work is supported by the NSF, DOE, NIH, private trusts and industry.

This program/lecture is partially funded/sponsored by the Visiting Professor Program which is funded by a grant to the Office of the Provost from the State of Michigan's King-Chavez-Parks Initiative.

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