Superworms to the Rescue: The Wiggly Heroes Eating Plastic

Imagine munching on polystyrene for breakfast. For the common Zophobas morio, or “superworm,” it’s a gourmet meal!

These squirmy critters, often found in pet shops as lizard snacks, have a surprising hidden talent: they can digest polystyrene, one of the most stubborn types of plastic.

Scientists from the University of Queensland, Australia, recently discovered this fascinating fact, and it could be a game-changer for our planet’s plastic problem.

A Pleasant Surprise

Dr. Chris Rinke, the lead study author from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, shared the exciting news: “We didn’t know if the superworms could eat and break down plastic when we started the experiments, but we were hoping they would,”.

And the superworms didn’t disappoint. Not only did they chow down on the plastic, but they also gained a bit of weight, showing they can thrive on this unconventional diet.

Not Just Any Worm

Contrary to their name, superworms are not actually worms. They are the larvae of the darkling beetle Zophobas morio.

Their super status comes from their size, being larger than many other insect larvae that also munch on plastic.

This study dove deep into their guts – literally – by sequencing the DNA of the microbes living there. It turns out these microbes have special genes that produce plastic-degrading enzymes.

The Future of Plastic Degradation

Dr. Rinke and his team believe that these enzymes are the key to a greener future.

Instead of relying on tanks of hungry superworms, we could use these enzymes to break down polystyrene in bioreactors.

The shredded plastic would be processed by an enzyme cocktail, turning it into valuable chemical compounds. These compounds could then be used to create eco-friendly products like bioplastics.

A Bright (and Less Plastic) Future

While this plastic-munching dream isn’t a reality yet, it’s heartening to know that we have these wriggly allies on our side.

So next time you see a superworm, remember: they’re not just lizard food. They might just help save the planet from our plastic woes.