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ProPla – Proteins from Plastics
Fundings: Cariplo Foundation – Bando 2022 “Economia Circolare: Promuovere ricerca per un futuro sostenibile”

The ProPla project

Proper waste management represents one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century and plays a key role in sustainable development. Unsustainable use and disposal of plastics are causing persistent and widespread environmental contamination, in particular due to microplastics (MPs, 1 to < 1000 μm particles) - resulting from larger plastic - that may cause adverse effects in ecosystems and organisms.

The project addresses the problem of MPs focusing on their recovery and valorization through a pre-competitive, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary approach. ProPla aims to develop an innovative biotechnological application to recover PET microplastics (microPET) from wastewater and exploit the power of protein engineering and systems biology approaches to generate a novel bacterial strain able to convert microPET into amino acids (plastic-eating activity) or high-value compounds (protein, lipid, chitin) through insects appropriately "modified." The goal is a paradigm shift, i.e., to enhance an environmental contaminant, potentially harmful even to human health, by converting it into a resource to produce goods useful to society, through a totally "green" approach.

Project objectives (starting: 1st of March 2023; duration: 36 months)

  • Developing an innovative biotechnological application to recover PET microplastics (microPET) from wastewater.

  • Generating a novel bacterial E. coli strain able to convert microPET into amino acids (plastic-eating activity), exploiting the power of protein engineering and systems biology approaches.

  • Setting up a biological tool for a sustainable valorisation of microPET, colonizing the larval gut microbiota of the saprophagous insect Hermetia illucens (black soldier fly, BSF) with the engineered recombinant bacterial strain to provide the ability to degrade the microPET added to their diet and thus improve the value of the insect biomass.


  • Reducing the negative environmental and public health outcomes generated by indiscriminate and inappropriate disposal practices, poor-quality treatments, and uncontrolled leaching of microPET.

The research team

The team is made up of experts from seven different research units involved in the study of plastic pollution, enzymatic engineering, systems biology and microbiology, entomology, economics, and the study of the life cycle of materials.

Meet the project partners!

The Protein Factory Lab -

University of Insubria

Loredano Pollegioni 

Elena Rosini

Gianluca Molla

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Caren Battaglia

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Davide Miani

Invertebrate Biology Lab -

Gianluca Tettamanti

Daniele Bruno

Aurora Montali

Environmental Engineering group


Vincenzo Torretta

Fabio Conti

Elena Rada

Alberto Baltrocchi

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Marco Carnevale Miino

Research Unit of Economics

Raffaello Seri

Giulia Pesaro

Elena Maggi

Anna Claudia Caspani

Andrea Vezzulli

Paolo Castelnovo

University of Milano-Bicocca

Chiara Damiani

Luca Brambilla

Alex Pessina

Marco Vanoni

Insect Physiology and Biotechnology Lab -

University of Milan

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Silvia Caccia

Morena Casartelli

Maria Carmen Valoroso

Davis Roma

CNR-IRSA: Water Research Institute (Verbania) -

Silvia Galafassi

Rosa Zullo

Contact us!


PI: prof. Loredano Pollegioni


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