How These Plastic Eating Superworms Can Solve The Plastic Recycling Problem

The superworms, Zophobas morio, are little recycling plants that shred the polystyrene with their jaws and feed it to their stomach bacteria. Take a look at how these plastic eating superworms can solve the plastic recycling problem.

How These Plastic Eating Superworms Can Solve The Plastic Recycling Problem

A common variety of worm with a liking for polystyrene has been discovered by scientists at the University of Queensland to assist considerably to plastic recycling, reports The Epoch Times.

The study, led by Dr Chris Rinke from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, discovered that the ‘superworm,’ Zophobas morio which enjoys eating polystyrene and can digest it thanks to a specific bacterial enzyme in its intestines.

Superworms are the larvae of the Zophobas morio beetle, which is native to Central and tropical South America and can mature to be 60 millimetres (2.5 inches) long.

Over a three-week period, the worms were given either polystyrene foam, wheat bran, or fasting regimens.

“We found the superworms fed a diet of just polystyrene not only survived but even had marginal weight gains,” Rinke said.

“This suggests the worms can derive energy from the polystyrene, most likely with the help of their gut microbes.”

The researchers discovered that the worms carried multiple encoded enzymes capable of digesting polystyrene and styrene, and their purpose is now to develop such enzymes to breakdown plastic trash in recycling centers through mechanical shedding and subsequent enzymatic biodegradation.

The superworms, according to Rinke, are little recycling plants that shred the polystyrene with their jaws and feed it to their stomach bacteria.

“The breakdown products from this reaction can then be used by other microbes to create high-value compounds such as bioplastics.”

How These Plastic Eating Superworms Can Solve The Plastic Recycling Problem 2
Dr Chris Rinke from the University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences. (Image supplied by University of Queensland)

Researchers plan to use this type of bio-upcycling in plastic waste recycling to eliminate garbage around the globe.

The objective, according to co-author and PhD candidate Jiarui Sun, is to cultivate the gut bacteria in a laboratory and further investigate its capacity to digest polystyrene.

“We can then look into how we can upscale this process to a level required for an entire recycling plant,” he said.

On a recycling plant scale, the polystyrene would be shredded and then submerged in an enzyme cocktail similar to a huge bioreactor, according to Rinke, but the right conditions for the enzymes to flourish have yet to be established.

‘That’s one of the big bottlenecks. We have an idea what the enzymes are, but they are not very well characterised,” he said.

“That’s something we want to do over the next year to actually express those enzymes in our laboratory in larger quantities and characterise them in great detail, so we know exactly what’s the right temperature, what’s the right pH.

“So that’s a lot of research needs to be done,” Rinke said.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. IF The Scientists can’t replicate the conditions in their laboratories – – well they surely can cultivate the worms and put them on the appropriate landfill to do their ‘magic’. ….. …. shalom

  2. This is wonderful! We’re constantly taking plastic to the recycling dealers. I’ve heard nothing lately of biodegradable plastics, and most Americans have the same throwaway mentality that their parents did. What’s the point of saving the atmosphere, if we keep loading the oceans with plastic?

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