In the past, the process of tanning hides into useable leather involved the use of many harmful chemicals. Enzyme technology has advanced such that some of these chemicals can be replaced and the process is actually faster and more efficient. There are enzymes that can be applied to the first steps of the process where fat and hair are removed from the hides. Enzymes are also used during cleaning, and keratin and pigment removal, and to enhance the softness of the hide. They also help stabilize the leather during the tanning process to prevent it from rotting.
- Biodegradable plastic
Plastics manufactured by traditional methods come from non-renewable hydrocarbon resources. They consist of long polymer molecules that are tightly bound to one another and cannot be broken down easily by decomposing microorganisms. Biodegradable plastics can be made using plant polymers from wheat, corn or potatoes, and consist of shorter, more easily degraded polymers.
Since biodegradable plastics are more water soluble, many current products that contain them are a mixture of biodegradable and non-degradable polymers. Certain bacteria can produce granules of plastic within their cells. The genes for enzymes involved in this process have been cloned into plants which can produce the granules in their leaves. The cost of plant-based plastics limits their use, and they have not met with widespread consumer acceptance.
Bioethanol is a biofuel that has already met with widespread public acceptance. You might already be using bioethanol when you add fuel to your vehicle. Bioethanol can be produced from starchy plant materials using enzymes capable of efficiently making the conversion. At present, corn is a widely used source of starch, however increasing interest in bioethanol is raising concerns as corn prices rise and corn as a food supply is being threatened. Other plants including wheat, bamboo, or other grasses are possible candidate sources of starch for bioethanol production.
It is debatable whether the cost of making bioethanol is less than for the consumption of fossil fuels, in terms of greenhouse emissions. Bioethanol production (growing crops, shipping, manufacturing) still requires a large input of non-renewable resources. Technological research and manipulation of enzymes to make the process more efficient, thus requiring less plant material or consuming less fossil fuels, are in the works, to improve on this area of biotechnology.