Date of Award

Spring 5-9-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Eric S. Gilbert, PhD

Second Advisor

George Pierce, PhD

Third Advisor

Sidney Crow, PhD


Plastics are highly useful economically because of their resistance to diverse types of environmental and chemical agents and their ability to be molded into many types of products. Globally, plastic production is greater than 20 million metric tons per year. However, their widespread use and often their disposable nature results in significant plastic accumulation in the environment. Plastics are made of hydrocarbons, materials that are biodegradable depending on their molecular structure and size. It is hypothesized that pre-treatment of plastic materials could enhance their bioavailability, facilitating their microbial biodegradation. In this dissertation, a process was developed to treat nylon 6,6 polymers by acid hydrolysis to produce a microbial growth medium. The chemical composition of the medium was determined by low pressure liquid chromatography-spectrophotometry and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry and found that the medium was a mixture of molecules with molecular weight > 800 m/z and with similar chemical characteristics to polyamines. There was steady growth of Pseudomonas putida KT2440 in the medium with concomitant substrate biodegradation. Notably, the yeast Yarowia lipolytica grew well in the medium when supplemented with yeast extract. A similar medium derived from nylon 6,6 containing nylon-derived particles supported the growth of Beijerinckia sp. and Streptomyces sp. BAS1. Confocal laser scanning microscopy and flame ionization gas chromatography were used to identify and quantify the production of polyhydroxybutyrate, a type of “bioplastic”. The aforementioned microorganisms were cultivated in a bench-scale bioreactor that was developed as part of this dissertation. The bioreactor had a novel impeller design resulting in enhanced mixing and rotation and also a modular format allowing for diverse configurations. The bioreactor was notable for its durability and low cost. A detailed description of its design is included in the appendices. In summary, plastic materials can potentially be processed into growth media for microorganisms and can be used for production of value-added products. The media described herein can be used in bioconversion processes using a bioreactor.

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