What do super mealworms eat plastic

Mealworms eat plastic waste

Most plastics are very heavy and biodegradable over long periods of time. The result: from hard plastic to microplastic, numerous plastics accumulate in the environment and pollute the oceans in particular.
But there are actually some bacteria that are able to break down plastics. Japanese scientists discovered a bacterium that breaks down PET. It has evolved on PET trash and feeds on plastic. But the metabolism is relatively slow. In order to be able to use the bacterium effectively against plastic waste, a process must be found that accelerates the decomposition.
The larvae of the large wax moth can also decompose a plastic, polyethylene, in a relatively short time. They grind the plastic with their biting tools and break it down in the intestines.

Hope mealworms
In 2015, scientists at Stanford University found that mealworm larvae can eat and digest styrofoam (polystyrene). The mealworms have a biofilm in their intestines that contains bacteria that enable the styrofoam to be digested. The excretions only contain biodegradable substances and so the mealworms - after they have eaten themselves on the plastic waste - can also serve as fish feed.
A mealworm consumes 35-40 milligrams of plastic per day - a very small amount. Half of this is excreted in the form of carbon dioxide.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology in Oberhausen have now investigated the framework conditions (temperature and humidity) under which the mealworms optimally utilize the polystyrene. Initial results show that the optimal conditions are around 20 degrees Celsius and 50 percent relative humidity.
The next step is to check whether the results of polystyrene can also be transferred to other mass-produced plastics. In a final step, it should be checked to what extent the intestinal bacteria multiply after extraction and whether they can be used in landfills or sewage treatment plants.

The mealworm
The meal beetle belongs to the black beetle family. Its larvae are known as mealworms because of their worm-like appearance. Beetles and larvae are storage pests. The larvae, like the beetles, feed primarily on starchy substances. The meal beetle is therefore often found as a pest in bakeries. The beetles can fly, but rarely do so.
Mealworms are bred as protein foods for insectivorous birds and as bait for anglers.

Update (23.09.2017): German researchers question the results
Scientists at the University of Mainz doubt that the mealworms actually break down plastic. They claim there is no evidence that the caterpillars actually digest the polyethylene. The researchers believe that the mealworms would simply chop up the plastic with their chewing tools and excrete it again in the form of microplastics, chemically unchanged.
Spiegel Online: Controversy over research work - does the caterpillar really eat plastic? 08/31/2017


Posted on author Martina R├╝terCategories BionicsTags microplastics, plastic, environment, pollution