Plastic-Eating Worm May Solve The World’s Plastic Problem

( Researchers continue to work together to solve the issue of plastic pollution on both a global and micro scale as more nations and businesses undertake efforts to combat plastic waste in the environment.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have now revealed that common Zophobas morio have a unique taste for plastic and may even revolutionize recycling after research with so-called “superworms.” This is made possible by a bacterial enzyme in the worms’ intestines that can break down both styrene and polystyrene.

Researchers aim to one day design the enzyme for mass manufacturing and garbage degradation in recycling facilities based on their results.

Studies report one of the most significant sources of microplastic waste is polystyrene, a type of plastic used to make anything from styrofoam to appliances but does not decompose. Instead, it breaks down into tiny bits (microplastics) when disposed of.

Because of their adverse environmental and human health impacts, microplastics are a top priority for environmental and conservation organizations.

University of Queensland’s research shows that researchers learned about the worms’ capabilities after feeding them various meals of polystyrene foam or bran for three weeks. They placed other worms on a fasting diet.

Dr. Chris Rinke of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland explained that the results suggest the worms can derive energy from polystyrene, most likely with the help of their gut microbes. Those given a diet consisting solely of polystyrene had marginal weight gains compared to the fasting worms.

Dr. Rinke described the worms as little recycling plants and explained how they use their jaws to shred the polystyrene before feeding it to their gut flora.

According to the researcher, to determine which enzyme is most efficient in breaking down polystyrene and better understand how the process may be scaled up, the team is working to cultivate the bacteria in a lab setting.

Environmental reports show the significance of fungus and bacteria in decomposing plastic trash has been studied. But experts cautioned that because modern plastic is so inexpensive to produce, it may be challenging to adopt such improvements widely.
Perhaps if household products, for example, were built to last, there would be no need for discarding them so often.