The worms that eat plastic


It is fashionable to develop alternatives to reduce the plastic in our lives. There are battles against microplastics at sea. Large recycling guidelines are changing the mentality of many countries. And now someone seems to have an interesting idea: what if we take advantage of the worms that eat plastic? Wait a minute … is there? Yes.

They are the larvae of the beetle Zophobas atratus. Thanks to the bacteria in your digestive system, they can break down polystyrene. And the enzyme responsible for the process could be used to recycle plastic in the future.

The worms that eat plastic. You look so cute!
The worms that eat plastic. You look so cute!
They serve as food

They resemble giant mealworms (the larvae of a beetle, known as Tenebrio Molitor). These “super worms” from Zophobas astratus They are larvae that are often sold in pet stores. They are used as food for fish, reptiles or amphibians. They are relatively large and about 5 inches long. Its appearance is meaty. American Chemical Society scientists discovered his rare ability. You can mine polystyrene.

Authors report in the study entitled Biodegradation of polystyrene by Pseudomonas sp. Isolated from the intestine of superworms (larvae of Zophobas atratus). It was published in the magazine Enviromental Science & Tecnology this week. This newly discovered ability is related to a particular strain of bacteria. It inhabits the larval digestive system.

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Here is a photo of a family dinner.
Here is a photo of a family dinner.
Plastic lunch

Polystyrene is a plastic that is commonly used in packaging, disposables, and others. If it is dumped in landfills or released into the wild, it will take several hundred years to fully decompose. Several studies had already shown that different types of mealworms such as mealworms can absorb and break down polystyrene in a few weeks. For mealworms -Tenebrio molitor-, this ability was associated with a particular strain of bacteria.

The main authors of this work are Jiaojie Li and Dae-Hwan Kim. They wanted to find out if they could find similar bacteria in so-called superworms.

The team used 50 of these larvae of the species Zophobas atratus. They were placed in a chamber with polystyrene as the only source of carbon. After 21 days, the worms were found to have consumed approximately 70% of the plastic provided. In a further step, the researchers isolated the bacterial strain. Pseudomonas aeruginosa from the intestines of worms. They showed that it can grow and degrade directly on the surface of the polystyrene. They also identified that this was possible thanks to the identification of the S.Erin hydrolase, the enzyme that is responsible for most of the biodegradation. The authors believe that it could be used in the not too distant future to degrade and recycle residual polystyrene. The worms that eat plastic are here to stay.

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