Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 102, Issue 5, pp 2117–2127 | Cite as

A novel biological recovery approach for PHA employing selective digestion of bacterial biomass in animals

  • Su Yean Ong
  • Idris Zainab-L
  • Somarajan Pyary
  • Kumar Sudesh


Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is a family of microbial polyesters that is completely biodegradable and possesses the mechanical and thermal properties of some commonly used petrochemical-based plastics. Therefore, PHA is attractive as a biodegradable thermoplastic. It has always been a challenge to commercialize PHA due to the high cost involved in the biosynthesis of PHA via bacterial fermentation and the subsequent purification of the synthesized PHA from bacterial cells. Innovative enterprise by researchers from various disciplines over several decades successfully reduced the cost of PHA production through the efficient use of cheap and renewable feedstock, precisely controlled fermentation process, and customized bacterial strains. Despite the fact that PHA yields have been improved tremendously, the recovery and purification processes of PHA from bacterial cells remain exhaustive and require large amounts of water and high energy input besides some chemicals. In addition, the residual cell biomass ends up as waste that needs to be treated. We have found that some animals can readily feed on the dried bacterial cells that contain PHA granules. The digestive system of the animals is able to assimilate the bacterial cells but not the PHA granules which are excreted in the form of fecal pellets, thus resulting in partial recovery and purification of PHA. In this mini-review, we will discuss this new concept of biological recovery, the selection of the animal model for biological recovery, and the properties and possible applications of the biologically recovered PHA.


Polyhydroxyalkanoate Biological recovery Mealworms Selective digestion Small animals 



The authors would like to acknowledge the funding by Exploratory Research Grant Scheme (203/PBIOLOGI/6730049), and support and research facilities provided by Universiti Sains Malaysia and RIKEN, Japan. SY Ong and I Zainab-L wish to acknowledge the financial support provided by MyBrain15 scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education and Malaysian International Scholarship, respectively. Pyary would like to thank USM Fellowship and Short-Term IPA Programme at Bioplastic Research Group, RIKEN, Japan, for the financial support. We would like to thank Dr. Manoj Lakshmanan from Universiti Sains Malaysia for the language editing.

Funding information

This research was supported by Exploratory Research Grant Scheme (203/PBIOLOGI/6730049).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversiti Sains MalaysiaPenangMalaysia

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