Here, we report the use of petrochemical aromatic hydrocarbons as a feedstock for the biotechnological conversion into valuable biodegradable plastic polymers--polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). We assessed the ability of the known Pseudomonas putida species that are able to utilize benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, p-xylene (BTEX) compounds as a sole carbon and energy source for their ability to produce PHA from the single substrates. P. putida F1 is able to accumulate medium-chain-length (mcl) PHA when supplied with toluene, benzene, or ethylbenzene. P. putida mt-2 accumulates mcl-PHA when supplied with toluene or p-xylene. The highest level of PHA accumulated by cultures in shake flask was 26% cell dry weight for P. putida mt-2 supplied with p-xylene. A synthetic mixture of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, p-xylene, and styrene (BTEXS) which mimics the aromatic fraction of mixed plastic pyrolysis oil was supplied to a defined mixed culture of P. putida F1, mt-2, and CA-3 in the shake flasks and fermentation experiments. PHA was accumulated to 24% and to 36% of the cell dry weight of the shake flask and fermentation grown cultures respectively. In addition a three-fold higher cell density was achieved with the mixed culture grown in the bioreactor compared to shake flask experiments. A run in the 5-l fermentor resulted in the utilization of 59.6 g (67.5 ml) of the BTEXS mixture and the production of 6 g of mcl-PHA. The monomer composition of PHA accumulated by the mixed culture was the same as that accumulated by single strains supplied with single substrates with 3-hydroxydecanoic acid occurring as the predominant monomer. The purified polymer was partially crystalline with an average molecular weight of 86.9 kDa. It has a thermal degradation temperature of 350 degrees C and a glass transition temperature of -48.5 degrees C.
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