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These worms are mini polystyrene recycling factories

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While microplastics have been identified in the blood, lungs, and even found on top of Everest, this news could provide guidance on how to biodegrade our plastic waste, a real scourge on our planet. The solution could come from a bacterial enzyme nested in the gut microbiome of these superworms.

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Packaging material, disposable cutlery, boxes CD : the polystyrene is one of the forms of plastic the most common, but it is waste sorting it’s not easy and the vast majority end up in landfills or oceans, threatening sea ​​life. Scientists have found that “super worms”, which swallow the substance, could be of great help.

It is thanks to their intestinal enzymes that these larvae of the beetles Zophobas morio could hold the key to a rate of waste sorting higher, according to researchers from the Australian University of Queensland. Chris Rinkewho conducted a study published Thursday in the journal Microbial genomicstold AFP that previous research had shown that the tiny wax and mealworms (which are also larvae beetles) had a good history in it matters consumption of plastic.

So we assumed that much larger superworms could eat even more “He added. Super worms grow up to five centimeters and are raised as a food source reptiles and birds, or even humans in countries like Thailand and Mexico. Rinke and her team put the superworms on different types of diets for three weeks. Some got styrofoam, others sounded, still others nothing.

In search of the enzymes involved

We confirmed that super worms could only survive on a polystyrene diet and even gain weight, compared to a hunger control group, suggesting that the worms could increasepower eat styrofoam “He said. Although superworms raised on polystyrene completed their life cycle, becoming fully grown adult nymphs and then beetles, testing revealed a loss of microbial diversity in their guts and pathogens. pathogens potentials.

These findings suggest that while insects can survive on polystyrene, it is not a nutritious diet and does have an impact on their health. The next step, the team used a technique called metagenomics to analyze the gut microbial community and find out which one enzymes encoded by Genoa have been involved in the degradation of plastic.

Styrofoam munching super worms. © University of Queensland

Towards mini-recycling plants?

One way to use the results would be to provide superworms waste food or agricultural bioproducts to be consumed with polystyrene. “ This could be a way to improve the health of the worms and cope with the large amount of waste of food in western countries “, According to Mr. Rinke.

But if it is possible to breed more worms for this purpose, imagine another path: to create recycling factories that mimic what the larvae do, which is to destroy the plastic first and then dispose of it. ” Ultimately, we want to remove the superworms from the fileequationexplained the researcher who now plans further research aimed at finding the most effective enzymes and then further improving them through engineering. enzymatic.

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