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Mealworms’ efficient guts can digest polystyrene according to new studies



New research suggests that mealworms can safely eat and digest polystyrene foam and other types of plastic. The two studies were recently published in Environmental Science and Technology from co-authors Professor Jun Yang and his doctorate student Yu Yang of Beihang University, and Stanford University engineer Wei-Min Wu. Within their research they found that the inside of a mealworm’s gut contains microorganisms that are able to biodegrade polyethylene and other plastics.

Individuals are finding the results astonishing; believing this new breakthrough may help solve the plastic pollution affecting the world.

"Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock," said Craig Criddle, who supervises plastics research at Stanford, in a press release.

According to CNN, the research documented over 100 mealworms who consumed 34 to 39 milligrams of polystyrene foam each day. Scientists also paid attention to the mealworms' overall health and saw larvae that ate a diet subsisting strictly of foam were as healthy as mealworms eating a normal diet of bran.

The studies concluded that the mealworms transformed the plastic they ate into carbon dioxide, worm biomass and biodegradable waste. Additionally, the researchers felt the waste seemed safe to use in soil for plants and even crops. Notably, in the past scientists have studied cockroaches consuming plastic, but the insects have not shown the biodegradation effects that the mealworms have revealed.

"The findings are revolutionary. This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in environmental science in the past 10 years," Wu said in an interview with CNN.

Besides having these creepy crawlers do the “recycling” for us, you personally can add recycling into your daily routine. There are many recycling drop-off locations where foam #6 and other plastics are accepted. By choosing to recycle, you will help reduce solid waste and demonstrate environmental responsibility for future generations. Click here to find a drop-off location near you.

Moving forward, the researchers will continue to study the plastic-eating mealworms in order to see if these creatures can provide a sustainable solution for foam recycling.