A Styrofoam-Eating Bug
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styrofoam eating bug

Most of us usually think of bugs as pests and not as lifesaving or earth-saving and yet some are. What I’m talking about are beetles whose larvae can digest Styrofoam.

Yep, several years ago scientists found that mealworms and waxworms can actually feed on and digest this seemingly indestructible plastic. But they’ve now found the larvae of a beetle called Zophobas atratus can digest four times the amount of Styrofoam, because this larvae is a super worm two and a half inches long.

To understand its process, scientists sealed these worms in a glass container with no carbon dioxide. After feeding on Styrofoam, the worms converted almost forty percent of the plastic into CO-two which means they turned it into breathable gas. Amazing!

It turns out these worms carry a microbe in their gut that can digest the material. When scientists treated the worms with antibiotics, their ability to produce CO-two decreased.

The next goal is to isolate the worm’s microbe, most likely a bacterium, and produce it in mass. Then use it to recycle the thirty million tons of Styrofoam produced each year.

We must find ways to reduce the plastic we consume. In the pacific are nearly two trillion pieces of plastic floating in a vortex weighting eighty thousand tons.

Perhaps we can bring that number down with the help of this amazing super worm. It also reminds us to preserve our biodiversity because it’s there where we find incredible solutions to many of our great challenges.

For more information…

Styrofoam-Eating Mealworms Don’t Absorb Toxic Additive In The Foam
In 2015, Stanford University scientists discovered that mealworms could be employed to break down Styrofoam (polystyrene) waste. The insects eat the material and break it down through digestion. Since then, the team has found that the worms do not absorb the toxic substance in the foam (hexabromocyclododecane, aka HBCD) into their bodies. Meaning, the bugs are safe to eat! They can be used to help with the problem of Styrofoam waste and then livestock feed.

Plastic-eating worms may offer solution to mounting waste, Stanford researchers discover
An ongoing study by Stanford engineers, in collaboration with researchers in China, shows that common mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic.