Primary Investigator: Mikael Elias
Co-Investigators: Larry Wackett; Peter Jaffé (Princeton University); Amir Shimon (Postdoctoral Scholar)
Industry Partners: 3M
Award Type: Seed Grant – Postdoctoral Research Scholar

ProblemPerfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known as the “forever chemicals” because of their extreme persistence in the environment. Globally, more than 4000 PFAS chemicals have been created, and many have been linked to adverse health outcomes for humans and ecosystems. Until recently, PFAS have been considered to be completely non-biodegradable. This has led to inadequate, short-term solutions to minimize human exposure rather than addressing the important need to remove and degrade PFAS compounds from the environment. 

Solution: Recent work by researchers at Princeton University showed the first convincing evidence that bacteria are capable of degrading PFAS compounds to harmless by-products like carbon dioxide and fluoride. Elias and team will identify and characterize the novel PFAS-degrading enzymes from bacteria. Once fully identified, the team will characterize the structures of PFAS-degrading enzymes, and then further explore application of enzymes for biodegradation of PFAS.

Impact: Clear characterization of bacterial enzymes involved in biodegradation of PFAS will reveal the actual mechanisms of PFAS breakdown and provide important foundational knowledge for this new technology. PFAS compounds are considered the single greatest challenge of environmental containment in Minnesota, making novel biodegradation methods crucial to our state.

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