FEMS Journals Oral Presentation Prize: Marija Mojicevic

FEMS Online Conference on Microbiology 2020

We send our congratulations to Marija Mojicevic (@MarijaMojicevic), who won the Oral Presentation Prize for Early Career Scientists at the the FEMS Online Conference on Microbiology 2020, sponsored by the FEMS journals.

The FEMS Online Conference on Microbiology took place between the 28th and 31st of October 2020 as a virtual conference. Her winning presentation was titled “Plastic Saga – The microbes strike back“.

Read our interview with Marija about her research below:

 

What is your current position and what was your scientific journey to get there?

I have recently joined the Material Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) as part of BioInnovation of a Circular Economy for Plastics project (BioICEP). I completed my PhD in Biotechnology at the Faculty of Technology, University of Novi Sad, Serbia carrying out experimental work at the Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering, University of Belgrade, Serbia. The primary focus of my previous research was isolation of novel Streptomyces spp., their characterization and assessment of secondary metabolite production coupled with the detection, structural characterization and identification of antifungal compounds and optimization of their biosynthesis. But now, as a part of BioICEP team, I will lead the biocatalytic and microbial plastic digestion technology stream at AIT.”

 

Could you describe the research your poster covered?

My presentation gave an insight in global problem concerning plastic waste, but also presented the BioICEP project and microorganisms as a potential solution. BioICEP is a pan European-Chinese collaboration formed to reduce the burden of plastic waste in the environment. Our approach is a triple-action depolymerisation system including mechano-biochemical disintegration and biocatalytic digestion of plastic and microbial consortia development. The project’s overall objective is to demonstrate a seamless sustainable route to a circular economy for plastics by developing an advanced energy, carbon, and cost-efficient waste plastic biotransformation into high market demand bioproducts and bioplastics. The consortium brings together leading experts from industry and academia contributing a set of purpose-designed and ground-breaking technologies.

As part of the introduction, this presentation has also covered the necessity and significance of pretreatment technology and gave options for improvements on biofragmentation level. Presented results focused on isolation and identification of strains with the ability to produce enzymes relevant for plastic degradation. Strains were isolated from different sources, such as: landfills and pristine soils, soil samples containing plastic material buried 30 years ago, and woodlice (Isopoda spp.). All strains were cultivated on various ‘plastic related’ substrates as a sole carbon source such as coconut oil, terephtalic acid (TA), polycarpolactone (PCL), impranil, bis-2 hidroxyethyl terephthalate (BHET), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) itself. After few weeks cultivation period, results were very encouraging. For soil isolates, the most prominent results were achieved with PCL, not only growth of tested isolates was observed, but clearing activity, too. Isolates from woodlice samples also showed amazing ability to grow not only on PCL but on PET as well. Of course, more research is crucial in order to confirm these results and to keep developing strains towards ‘mixed plastic waste consumption’ direction.”

 

What do you hope to focus your research on in the future?

Further research will follow the BioICEP plan, starting with further identification of relevant enzyme producers, and will include pretreated plastic samples and strain improvement techniques. We are determined to find a sustainable prototype system plan, paving the way to bring the developed solution to the market, fulfilling current needs, future expectations, and delivering a seamless bio-innovative route for a circular economy for plastics.

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