There is a lot of plastic. At the speed of how we produce and throw it away again, we are not getting rid of it. Because throwing it away doesn't mean that it is gone again. As plastic can remain in the environment for centuries before it crumbles to tiny pieces, it besieges and destroys many areas of our lives. The success of our Wormify research project will create a natural alternative to plastic incineration or landfill. One in which plastic waste is biodegraded.
These are the findings so far:
MEALWORMS EAT PLASTIC
It is known that some insect larvae and fungi have the ability to digest plastic. In our project, we first want to focus on the bacteria in mealworms (the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus).
Mealworms usually eat rotting plants, decaying wood, fungus or seeds. When they were offered styrofoam as their only food source, the larvae lived like the others which were fed with normal food over a periode of one month.The consumption of plastic is not harming the mealworms in any way.¹
Scientist from Beihang University, Stanford University and BGI-Shenzhen extracted different bacteria from the mealworm gut and examined which of these are the ones that enables the larvae to digest non-biological food like polystyrene.
The larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus also called Mealworm
The isolated bacterial strains formed viable biofilms on a polystyrene film over a certain incubation period.
These Bacteria strains made obvious pits and cavities on the film surfaces and the hydrophobicity of these films had decreased.
They also verified the formation of carbonyl groups and the release of water-soluble daughter products.
In other words: A variety of microorganisms present in the mealworms' gut enable the worm to digest non-biodegradable food and transform it into biological matter such as CO2, water and biomass.
(1) Research Gate. Biodegradation and Mineralization of Polystyrene by Plastic-Eating Mealworms: Part 1. Chemical and Physical Characterization and Isotopic Tests, RESULTS AND DISCUSSION; Environmental Science & Technology 49(20) · September 2015; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282046766_Biodegradation_and_Mineralization_of_Polystyrene_by_Plastic-Eating_Mealworms_Part_1_Chemical_and_Physical_Characterization_and_Isotopic_Tests#pf7