Study reveals Mealworms can digest Styrofoam all-plastic diet and not die

Researchers have finally found some solution to tackle the ever growing plastic waste which is considerably impacting the environment.

Nowadays, one is sure to find plastic almost anywhere and everywhere as it mainly helps to make life much easier and cleaner.

Plastic is a combined form of synthetic or semi-synthetic polymer which is malleable into any shape and form with heat.

Though there are umpteen benefits of plastic, one major drawback of this product is it degrades at a very slow rate thus posing a big threat to the environment.

However, for the very first time, a joint study conducted by the researchers at the Stanford University, US and Beihang University, China has shown that meal-worms have certain microorganisms in their gut which helps them digest plastic!

Surprisingly, Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, found that the meal-worms which is the larvae of darkling beetle have developed methods to digest plastic and they can even subsist on a diet exclusively made out of Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene.

Earlier, plastic was thought to be non bio-degradable and hence these substances would be used as landfills or dumped in oceans where they would just accumulate for decades and severely impact the environment.

This recent study by Stanford researchers is of considerable importance because it seems meal-worms have developed certain bacteria in their gut which can biodegrade plastic as a part of their digestive process.

Wu said in a statement: “Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem.”

According to the study, the process of plastic bio-degradation is extremely slow. It was seen that 100 meal-worms together can eat around 34 to 39 milligrams of Styrofoam per day which is equivalent to the weight of a pill.

Researchers also found that during digestion, almost fifty percent of polystyrene would get converted into carbon dioxide and the remaining would be excreted by the meal-worms in the form of bio degraded droppings which is safe to be used as soil for crops.

In addition, the plastic eating meal-worms remained healthy just as a normal worm would do eating a non-polystyrene diet or a natural diet.

Researchers are now studying the gut bacteria of meal-worms to understand and develop better plastic waste management which would help them to find means of recycling plastic; however currently there are very few facilities which have the capacity to do so.

Its a fact that the total amount of annual plastic waste which is added to the garbage across the world is much higher to what the mealworms can process. Hence, researchers are engaged in an extensive study which can help them generate much more powerful enzymes that can degrade various varieties of plastics including impervious plastics, polypropylene, microbeads and bio-plastics.

Mealworms are generally found in the gut of animals. As already mentioned every year hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic is being dumped in the oceans worldwide which is a big threat to the environment and hence researchers are now also checking if there exists a marine equivalent of the meal-worm which can really help to digest plastic accumulated in the oceans.

Furthermore, researchers also aim to follow the plastic eating worms up the food chain and find out the health of the animals which are dependent on the Styrofoam eating meal-worms.

Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, also supervising the research said: “There’s a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places. Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock.”

The details of the study has been published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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