Superpower Made Possible by Bacterial Sidekicks

Superworms Digest Plastic

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Bacteria from the gut of superworms can break down polystyrene (white product). Credit: Adapted from Environmental Science & Technology 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c01495

Resembling huge mealworms, superworms (Zophobas atratus) are beetle larvae that are frequently offered in family pet shops as feed for reptiles, fish and birds. In addition to their reasonably plus size (about 2 inches long), these worms have another superpower: They can break down polystyrene plastic. Now, scientists reporting in AIR CONDITIONER’ Environmental Science & Technology have actually connected this capability to a stress of germs that resides in the larvae’s gut.

Polystyrene is utilized in product packaging containers, non reusable cups and insulating products. When included land fills or cluttered in the environment, the plastic takes a number of a century to totally break down. Recently, a number of research studies have actually discovered that mealworms and superworms can consume and break down polystyrene within a couple of weeks. In mealworms, this capability was connected to a specific stress of polystyrene-degrading germs in the worms’ gut. Jiaojie Li, Dae-Hwan Kim and associates wished to look for comparable germs in superworms.

The group put 50 superworms in a chamber with polystyrene as their only carbon source, and after 21 days, the worms had actually taken in about 70% of the plastic. The scientists then separated a stress of Pseudomonas aeruginosa germs from the gut of the worms and revealed that it might grow straight on the surface area of polystyrene and simplify. Finally, they recognized an enzyme from the germs, called serine hydrolase, that seemed accountable for the majority of the biodegradation. This enzyme, or the germs that produce it, might at some point be utilized to assist break down waste polystyrene, the scientists state.

Reference: “Biodegradation of Polystyrene by Pseudomonas sp. Isolated from the Gut of Superworms (Larvae of Zophobas atratus)” by Hong Rae Kim, Hyun Min Lee, Hee Cheol Yu, Eunbeen Jeon, Sukkyoo Lee, Jiaojie Li, and Dae-Hwan Kim, 6 May 2020, Environmental Science & Technology.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c01495

The authors acknowledge financing from the CJ Blossom Idea Lab of the CJ Corporation, the Undergraduate Research Program at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology and the INGE funds of Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology.

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