No more microplastics in your food, that is our goal!

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Remove microplastics from your diet.

Every week we unknowingly consume approximately 5 grams of microplastics. A substantial part of the microplastics we consume come from grains and vegetables. According to recent research, this can lead to chronic lung, heart, and circulatory sickness, and will also increase your risk of cancer! We want to remove microplastics from our food with the help of synthetic biology and the biodegradable plastic ‘PHA’. Will you help us to remove microplastics from your diet?    


How do microplastics get in your food?

An major source of microplastic pollution in agriculture is fertilizer coating and agricultural plastic sheeting. To gradually release nutrients and reduce nitrogen pollution, fertilizer pellets are clad in a thin layer of plastic. In the soil, this plastic then decays into microplastics, which is absorbed by the plant. The microplastics accumulate in the plant and end up in our bodies through the food we eat.   


Phasing out microplastics with PHAse Out

With our project, “PHAse Out”, we aim to make a low-cost and biodegradable plastic cladding for fertilizer pellets with the help of bacteria. The biodegradable plastic, PHA, occurs naturally in bacteria as a form of enery storage, in a similair way to how humans store extra enery in fat cells. Due to this, PHA can also be broken down by bacteria, making it biodegradable. Using PHA in agriculture has the benefit of leaving no microplastics for plants to absorb. This makes them an exciting and novel use case for agricultural applications.


Not costly, for your wallet or the environment

To make PHA, we are using methanol as a food source for our bacteria. Methanol is a cheaper, more economical, and more sustainable alternative to conventional food sources, such as sugar. Methanol can be made out of captured CO2, household waste, and biogas. This means the whole process can be done in a carbon neutral way without increasing the competition for our arable land!


We need your help!

We are the 2023 Leiden iGEM team, a student group from Leiden University competing in the iGEM synthetic biology competition. We are responsible for our own financing, and due to this we are asking for your support in crowdfunding our research. We ask for your support not just to win, but to help remove microplastics from yours and your family's food!

Will you help us achieve a better future?  

With your donations we will be able to pay for our participation in the iGEM competition, and procure our lab materials so that we can make serious progress towards our goal. Together we can achieve our goal to PHAse Out microplastics!

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Keep up to date with our project via social media. Every week we post updates about our project, our progress, and the activities we are organizing. Look out for talks near you!

Want to know more? Find it on our website


We are always happy to answer your questions! You can reach our communications team on social media, or via our email:


What is PHA?

Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is a group of biodegradable plastics and provide a promising alternative to the conventional polluting fossil-fuel based plastics. PHA is produced by a diverse group of microbes and degrades in several weeks to months in a natural environment. This is over 1000 times faster than a plastic bottle in which ended up in the ocean. However, over 99% of plastics are still fossil-fuel based due to the current high costs of PHA, and the lack of sustainability in its production route. We want to change this!


Producing PHA

With our project, we will produce biological PHA with bacteria. We will edit the DNA of the bacteria Methylobacterium extorquens AM1 in 3 different fronts, to make it’s PHA production as efficient as possible. What makes our bacteria so special is its’ rare ability to grow on the cheaper and more sustainable alternative to sugar: methanol! By using a cheap and sustainable food source we can make bioplastics which can actually compete in the industry, not just in agriculture but also in other markets.


Why do we use DNA editing?

The genetic engineering or microbes is an important aspect of synthetic biology. By editing the DNA of microbes, we can engineer its properties to be of the most use. In many cases, the goal of genetic engineering is to produce valuable molecules such as medicine, vaccines, antibiotics, or bioplastics. In our case, we chose to edit the DNA of our bacteria to lower the costs of our bioplastic as much as possible.

iGEM team 2023

We are a group of 13 ambitious students who share a passion for biology, research and problem solving. This is why we are competing in the international iGEM competition, where over 400 teams internationally solve pressing problems using synthetic biology. We have a diverse team, with bachelors and masters’ students, originating from a variety of fields of expertise and nationalities.

Lecture: Minder microplastics in ons voedsel!

Date: Thursday 14th of September 2023

Time: 19:45 – 21:30

Location: Huygens, Niels Bohrweg 2, 2333 CA Leiden

Room: De Sitterzaal

Language: Dutch


Who thinks they are eating healthy are often sadly mistaken. According to recent publications it is now known that we are on average consuming up to 5 grams of (micro)plastics daily. One of the culprits is the disintegrating of special time-release plastic fertilizer capsules used in agriculture, causing microscopically small pieces of plastic to travel via plant roots into our meals. The solution? A bacterium which makes a plastic with the same properties, which is completely biodegradable and non-toxic!


In this lecture David Sonneveld and Sadia Afzal will take you through their project ‘PHAse Out’. They tell the story how they, together with 11 more students, make the bacteria Methylobacterium extorquens produce biodegradable plastic in a cost effective and sustainable manner, to replace the pollution plastic used in agriculture.

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