Plastic-eating worms could be the answer to global waste crisis – Researchers

A senior research engineer at Stanford University in California, in collaboration with Chinese counterparts, may have just discovered a breakthrough in solving the global waste crisis due to excessive use of non-biodegradable plastic.

A recent study by Wei-Min Wu of Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering co-authored by Professor Jun Yang and his doctorate student Yu Yang of Beihang University in China, which was published in Environmental Science and Technology, discovered a mealworm that subsists on a diet of Styrofoam and excretes them as biodegradable waste that can be used in crops.

The tiny mealworm, which is the darkling beetle’s larvae form, were found to have microorganisms in its guts that are able to transform its polyethylene intake into a biodegradable wastes similar to a rabbit droppings.

What’s more surprising, and perhaps very promising, is that the mealworms that consumed strict diet of Styrofoam were found to be as healthy as those that were fed normal diet of bran.

Non-biodegradable no more

This was a significant development since early research on waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, were also found to biodegrade plastic used in filmy products like trash bags. Styrofoam had always been thought to be non-biodegradable and poses an increasing risk to the global pollution.

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

In their study, Wu and fellow researchers used 100 mealworms in their laboratory which ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam, or about the weight of a small pill, per day.

The larvae converted about half of its consumption into carbon dioxide, while the rest were excreted as biodegraded fragments; wastes that is apparently safe to be used in soil for plants and crops.

“The findings are revolutionary. This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in environmental science in the past 10 years,” Wu told CNN in an interview. (Click here to read more)

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