BREAKING DOWN HAIR AND FEATHER WASTE INTO USEFUL PRODUCTS
The Breakers aim to break down hair in wastewater treatment facilities and feather waste in the poultry industry. This is done using keratinase - a proteolytic enzyme capable of breaking the strong bonds in keratin. The name Breakers was created from the words “break”, “keratinase” and “keratin degradation”. The team’s motto is simple: ker-ate chop keratin waste!
Hair build-ups in wastewater treatment facilities lead to increased maintenance costs. In addition to hair in water, an estimated 8.5 billion pounds of feather waste is produced every year. Current methods for disposal of keratin waste include: incineration, which can lead to the release of many pollutants, foul odors, and harmful runoff capable of contaminating livestock and plants in the surrounding area; or burying the waste, which can lead to harmful leachate. Both these processes have detrimental environmental impacts and are inefficient.
As feathers and hair are protein-rich, there is an opportunity to turn the keratin waste into more beneficial protein products that can be of higher quality animal feed or fertilizer. Keratinases are capable of chemically degrading keratin down closer to its amino acids, resulting in a higher quality product. The goal for the project is to provide an inexpensive and efficient method to more completely degrade keratin in both hair and feathers. Engineering E. coli K12 to express keratinase will accomplish this goal.
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