Biological degradation of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic and assimilation of the corresponding monomers ethylene glycol and terephthalate (TPA) into central metabolism offers an attractive route for bio-based molecular recycling and bioremediation applications. A key step is the cellular uptake of the non-permeable TPA into bacterial cells which has been shown to be dependent upon the presence of the key tphC gene.
We recently reported the biochemical and structural characterisation of TphC in both open and TPA-bound closed conformations. This analysis demonstrates the narrow ligand specificity of TphC towards aromatic para-substituted dicarboxylates, such as TPA and closely related analogues. Further phylogenetic and genomic context analysis of the tph genes reveals homologous operons as a genetic resource for future biotechnological and metabolic engineering efforts towards circular plastic bio-economy solutions. (Nature Communications 2021)