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Scientists Discover “Superworm” that can Consume Styrofoam

Updated: Jun 25



By: Eric Wang


Scientists from the University of Queensland have discovered that the larva of a darkling beetle, scientific name zophobas morio, can survive solely on styrofoam. This larva contains enzymes in its stomach that can dissolve polystyrene, the plastic that makes up styrofoam. Styrofoam, a particularly troublesome plastic at landfills, takes up to 30% of landfill space worldwide and takes over 500 years to decompose. Researchers say an industrialized version of the enzymes that digest styrofoam could help tackle the worldwide plastic waste crisis. Christian Rinke, the co-author of the study, says, “This is definitely a new, arguably, better, environmentally friendly way to break [styrofoam] down.”

Superworms aren’t the only organisms able to eat plastic. Stanford researchers found that mealworms can also survive on polystyrene, and Japanese scientists have found bacteria that can break down plastic. If industrialized, the enzymes would be able to break down a lot of the styrofoam in landfills, and any waste could be upcycled, or reused to create something better.

Researchers say creating this plastic dissolver could take 5 to 10 years to make. Should it be created, it also has to work in all kinds of conditions, not just inside the stomach of a darkling beetle. Plus, it will take time before a sufficient study of the gut enzymes of the larva has been conducted.

While it’s not a panacea for all our problems, these superworms can certainly help with the plastic problem. By using a natural enzyme to dissolve plastic, we don’t have to burn it or wait for it to decompose over hundreds of years. As Jeremy O’Brien, director of applied research of the Solid Waste Association of North America, says, “That’s a lot simpler solution.”



Original Article: https://s3.amazonaws.com/appforest_uf/f1655653794052x404119789028842800/This%20plastic%20eating%20%E2%80%98superworm%E2%80%99%20could%20help%20solve%20the%20garbage%20crisis%20-%20The%20Washington%20Post.pdf



Supporting Articles:


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/10/foaming-at-the-mouth-the-superworms-making-a-meal-of-polystyrene-waste

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/10/science/worms-eating-styrofoam.html

https://abc7.com/superworms-australia-research-science-plastic-recycling/11963197/#:~:text=Researchers%20say%20the%20darkling%20larvae,plastics%20on%20a%20larger%20scale.


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