Team:Utah State


Project Abstract

Laundry detergents are one of the most commonly used household cleaning products in today’s society because they effectively clean and remove stains from clothing. Even though they are relatively harmless to humans, laundry detergents contain caustic chemicals and reagents that have a detrimental impact on the environment. Our aim is to use enzymatic means of cleaning to reduce the amount of detergent necessary for normal washes as well as increase the efficiency of stain removal. We have engineered E. coli to produce enzymes that can be used to remove laundry stains such as grass, starch, and oils. By functionalizing these enzymes on a bioplastic material that can be used as an additive to traditional laundry cycles, we hope to improve the sanitation of clothing and other washable materials. The demonstration of enzyme functionality after biological immobilization will create a platform for future teams to display enzymes relevant to other applications.

Can you imagine...

a life without clean clothes? Oh, the smell alone! Not to mention the unsightly colors and spots that would accumulate from your native food and flora. Detergents help run the world of personal hygiene and first impressions. Nobody wants a bad memory left from our appearance. Although detergents have ruled our laundry closets and will remain a household staple, innovations ought to transpire to create more ecologically friendly formulas. Who better to learn from than the creator of those stains, nature herself? Enzymes are nature’s catalyst to either create or destroy bonds, to break down those stains.

There is a need for this change because of the impact of detergent on water quality. Logan city is an example. Surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Cache valley, Utah State University is one of the gems of Logan city. In the middle of the valley, hidden by wetlands and marsh, are over 1 billion gallons worth of lagoons holding Logan city’s waste water. These lagoons treat the water through a series of natural processes. The out stream only needs to be lightly chlorinated before returning to the environment. This solution has worked for decades until recently when nutrient levels of the out stream remained too high, nutrients including phosphate [1,2]. Phosphates can be found in most laundry detergents, shampoos, and fertilizer.

The hazards of phosphate in detergents has been known to producers since the 1980’s [3]. Only recently have leading companies made enough progress to announce intentions to completely remove phosphates from their formulas [4]. Although progress has been made, new innovations must continue. With our project solution there is also potential to help third world countries without access to detergent or populations where phosphate regulation is disregarded.



[2] “City of Logan: Wastewater Treatment Master Plan Update 2013”