Scientists have found that worms can be a useful tool for removing polystyrene, one of the most common types of plastic in a variety of consumer products, such as disposable containers and cutlery, to prevent contamination. into the oceans and endanger marine life or be buried in landfills. It’s not easy to recycle.
Thanks to their intestinal enzymes, the larvae of the Zophopas moreau beetle can achieve higher rates of plastic recycling, according to researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Previous research has shown that small worms and larvae (also beetle larvae) are known consumers of plastic, Chris Rinke, who led the study, published Thursday in the journal Microbial Genomics, told AFP.
“So we hypothesized that the larger superworms could eat more,” he added.
The superworm can grow up to five centimeters in size and is cultivated as a food source for reptiles, birds or even humans in some countries like Thailand and Mexico.
For three weeks, Rinke and his team fed the superworms different types of food, some Styrofoam, some bran, and nothing for the third group.
According to Renke, this allowed the researchers to believe that “superworms can survive on a styrofoam-based diet alone and even gain weight compared to a group of starving worms, meaning the worms can get energy by feeding them.” with styrofoam. “
Although the Styrofoam-fed superworms completed their life cycle and became adult beetles, tests showed that their intestines lacked microbial diversity and contained elements that can cause disease.
These results mean that insects can only eat styrofoam, but this diet is not nutritious and can affect your health.
The team then used metagenomics technology to analyze microbial diversity in the gut and find out what kind of genetically encoded enzyme is responsible for biodegrading plastic.
One way to use the results is to feed the superworms leftover food or agricultural by-products, along with Styrofoam.
This could improve the worms’ health and solve the problem of large amounts of food waste in Western countries, Renke said.
While creating more worms is one option to achieve this goal, Rinke suggests that another solution is to create recycling plants that mimic what the larvae do, which is to first break down the plastic and then discard it.
“Ultimately, we want to take superworms out of the equation,” said the researcher, who plans to carry out more research to identify the most effective enzymes and then work to improve them through enzyme engineering.