Superworms That Eat Plastic


Maybe we could use insects to help up get rid of plastic waste. More precisely worms that have the awesome name of Superworms or King Worms. These are capable of surviving on a pure polystyrene diet.


Image by skeeze from Pixabay

We live in the age of plastic. Every year about 360 million tons of plastic are created. The amount of plastic is constantly growing and is reaching monstrous proportions. Recycling and ecological disposal of commonly used plastic is thus a serious problem and sadly, the enormous amount of effort put into the development of biodegradable plastic has not brought the needed results yet.

One of the most serious issues is the amount of microplastic – plastic particles with a size under five millimeters. And some are so small that you need a microscope to even see them. And where can you find them? Pretty much anywhere. The microscope will find them on the beach of a lonely island in the middle of the Pacific or even in ice that will come from the Arctic Ocean. Both the bottom of the Mariana Pit – 11 kilometers under the surface of the Ocean and the peak of Mount Everest are polluted with microplastics.

Polystyrene Fatties

Recently scientists found that some species of insects can eat plastic with no harm done to their health. While eating them the insects also decompose the plastic polymers into simpler substances that are not a threat to the environment. For example, the larvae of the Greater Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella) can consume high-density polyethylene and the larvae of the Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) like polystyrene foam as a single larva can eat about a pill of it per day.

Polystyrene is one of the plastics that is constantly destroying up our environment – about 33 million tons per year of it is made. So, scientists are searching for organisms capable of getting rid of it better than the larvae of the Mealworm. Now they tested larvae of the species Zophobas morio that are known as Superworms.

This nickname is pretty accurate as the larvae grow to a length of up to six centimeters and are really really hungry. They can also consume polystyrene and will survive even if they don't eat anything else. They actually do very similarly to eating their standard died to organic waste. After they poop the plastic out it is transformed into simple substances such as water or carbon dioxide.

Perfect Omnivores

These larvae and other similar creatures are made for such tasks by evolution itself – not by artificial design. Normally they eat various natural materials including hard-to-process dead wood. Their intestinal bacteria are ready to work on various substances including many that most animals would not have a good time trying to eat.

They are such good omnivores that they can even eat materials synthesized by humans that no creature has ever seen before and had the chance to evolve to eat. The Superworm itself is capable of getting rid of four times more polystyrene than the larvae of the Mealworm.

As the next step, the scientists want to use the bacteria from the Superworm’s intestines directly.


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