What’s striking in Christian Renck’s lab is the frighteningly loud crunching sound of worm-like larvae eating their way through Styrofoam and burrowing into lumps of plastic foam. Before throwing away a chewing pad, the microbiologist puts it to his ear to listen to the radicals. “If the worm is still eating there, you can actually hear it,” he says.
Rink and his colleagues have larvae Zupupas Morio , the great teal beetle, is called “superworms” because of its size. They fed them plastic to see if the microbes and enzymes in their gut could shed light on how to break down the vast amount of plastic waste on the planet. The result: these superworms are able to survive only on polystyrene. The material, also known colloquially as Styrofoam, is used in a large number of products. This ability of the worms indicates that they are very efficiently degraded in the animal’s digestive system. “They are basically like eating machines,” says Rink, who is at the University of Queensland in Australia and is a co-author of the study. Posted in Microbial Genomics..
“They are basically like eating machines.”(Christian Reinke, microbiologist)
To investigate how the superworms’ gut microbiome interacted with a pure plastic diet, the researchers divided 135 animals into three groups: one group was fed only wheat bran, the other with fine polystyrene, and the third received none. All worms were monitored for cannibalism, and members of the starving group were isolated from each other. The bran-fed larvae were significantly healthier than their plastic-fed or starved counterparts and more than doubled their weight in the three weeks.
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