What does Cellucoat look like in the real world?
The cost of groceries is increasing in Canada at its fastest pace since 1981(cite), which implies that there is a need to save money. However, the contrary seems to be happening which is wasting $1800 or 140 kg of food annually, with 45% of what is wasted being fruits and vegetables. To alleviate these issues, we developed Cellucoat as a sustainable packaging material that uses synthetic biology to deliver a sustainable and antimicrobial material to help prolong the shelf life of produce. To prolong shelf life, Celllucoat targets the prevention of produce-spoilage pathogens by using nisin, an antimicrobial peptide capable of fighting off several bacterial and fungi strains.
Not only does Cellucoat address the issues of waste, but it is also made of compostable, biopolymer bacterial cellulose. This is to align with Canada’s Zero Plastic waste legislature that began this year, 2022. Not only Canada has taken up this pact but other nations such as France, Spain, the UK, and India are replacing plastics with environmentally friendly alternatives by 2030. Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a bioplastic that would also be incorporated into Cellucoat to give strength to the material to make it a more worthy alternative to plastic.
Overall, Cellucoat is a bacterial cellulose packaging material incorporated with nisin and PHB that would be sold to fruit packing parties to pack fresh fruits allowing for longer life throughout the transit from the fields to fridges.
To find the “best fit” for Cellucoat in the market we conducted a series of customer discovery interviews. This revealed that consumers want an alternative to plastic packaging, specifically clamshells used for fruit packaging. They also require an easier process to preserve fruit for longer. Wholesalers and retailers also communicated that plastic packaging was excessive and were taking proactive steps in reducing plastic use at their stores. While produce packaging companies said that for Cellucoat to be advantageous in the industry we have to have the strength and economic advantage that plastic packaging has in comparison to its other competitors. Hence, here’s a detailed summary of our consumers:
The Cellucoat process starts with it being produced in an industrial lab. The process of production is as follows:
Figure 1. Graphical representation of Cellucoat’s Production Process
Variety of shapes of Cellucoat, molded to fit their use, would be produced in an industrial lab and then shipped and sold to produce packaging companies. These companies would pack the fruits they receive or produce in the package. These packaged fruits are then transported in rail cars and trucks to wholesale and retail stores for sale to consumers. Consumers purchase their fruits in Cellucoat packaging capable of prolonging the shelf life of the fruit, thus reducing fruit waste and economic loss. After the produce is consumed, Cellucoat goes into the compost bin and is degraded. However, any fruit not preserved has the potential to be used as the source material for the production of Celluocat, thus creating a “cradle-to-cradle” system.
Figure 2. Graphical representation of Cellucoat’s Supply Chain
Haven addressed our plans for implementation in the real world, there still exist challenges associated with making Cellucoat into a feasible business. The bacterial cellulose industry has not been established in the market because of the high costs associated with producing it. To combat this our team worked on a modified media called Fruit waste media to grow our bacterial cellulose-producing bacteria. This media is from orange fruit waste and reduces the costs associated with growth media. However, it still contains constituents of the traditional HS media. The presence of HS media still increases the costs, especially when taken to an industrial level. Therefore, there is a need to develop a modified media that uses little to no conventional media to reduce the cost. Another challenge that exists is the optimization of BC yield when grown in our co-culture of K. xylinus and E. coli. Creating a bioreactor designed for the adequate growth of K. xylinus and E. coli would be an ideal solution to tackle this problem. The literature suggests several suggestions for an aerosol bioreactor that uses a similar design to that we use at a lab scale to produce bacterial cellulose. Implementing a similar design can help maximize our BC yield.
Before a product made as a result of synthetic biology from a lab can be implemented in the world we have to make sure it is safe for people to use. Cellucoat is developed using lab grade bacteria including both the E. coli and the K. xylinus. However, we do not want bacteria on our fruit packaging. Therefore, our team has taken steps to remove all bacteria from our packaging using two different methods.
The high temperature and base are efficient at removing bacteria and any bacterial remains. We have also tested an autoclaved BC sample for growth on a fresh agar plate. If bacteria was present on in the bacterial cellulose after autoclaving it, we would of have seen bacterial growth. However we did not. Hence our methods of sterilization and purification are proven to be efficient. Our team prioritizes the development of a safe fruit packaging as represented by in our project design. To learn more, take a look at our saftey page.