Larvae that feed on polystyrene could revolutionize plastic recycling

Larvae that feed on polystyrene could revolutionize plastic recycling

A recent study shows that the intestine of beetle larvae contains enzymes capable of breaking down plastic that is usually very difficult to recycle.

The “super worms” could be a great help to our planet. Thanks to their intestinal enzymes, “superworms” (or larvae of the Zophobas morio beetle) can provide alternative methods to break down and recycle plastic waste after eating it, Australian scientists have observed. These larvae capable of digesting polystyrene may therefore hold the key to a higher polystyrene recycling rate.

Polystyrene is in fact a light plastic and composed largely of very widely used air, which is found in its solid form in many objects of everyday life such as packaging, toys or even insulation. If it is not a toxic plastic, it takes more than 1000 years to disappear from nature, which is why recycling is a real issue.

Worms that gain energy through polystyrene

Chris Rinke, who conducted the study published in the journal Microbial Genomics This Thursday, June 9, explains that research has already shown that tiny worms of wax and flour, which are also beetle larvae, have a good history of plastic consumption, which is why he and his team have “hypothesized that much larger ‘super worms’ could eat even more.”

That’s when they subjected the “super worms” to several types of diets for 3 weeks: some received polystyrene, some wheat bran, and some nothing. At the end of this study, they found that the larvae of the Zophobas morio beetle support the polystyrene regime very well. “We have confirmed that worms can survive on a polystyrene diet alone, and even gain some weight – compared to the starving control group – which suggests that worms can gain energy by eating polystyrene, ”concludes Chris Rinke.

A diet not without consequences for their health

Although high-polystyrene superworms completed their life cycle, becoming fully developed adult nymphs and then beetles, tests revealed a loss of microbial diversity in their intestines and potential pathogens. These results suggest that while insects can survive with polystyrene, it is not a nutritious diet and this has an impact on their health.

If they have completed their life cycle well, these tests have revealed a loss of microbial diversity in the intestines of these worms as well as potential pathogens, which shows that this diet has an impact on their health. As a reminder, these worms can measure up to 5 centimeters and are raised as a source of food for reptiles, birds, and humans in countries such as Thailand or Mexico.

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