We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data.

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.

Advertisement
Superworm Makes a Meal Out of Waste Polystyrene
News

Superworm Makes a Meal Out of Waste Polystyrene

Superworm Makes a Meal Out of Waste Polystyrene
News

Superworm Makes a Meal Out of Waste Polystyrene

The common Zophobas morio ‘superworm’ can eat through polystyrene. Credit: The University of Queensland.
Read time:
 

Want a FREE PDF version of This News Story?

Complete the form below and we will email you a PDF version of "Superworm Makes a Meal Out of Waste Polystyrene"

First Name*
Last Name*
Email Address*
Country*
Company Type*
Job Function*
Would you like to receive further email communication from Technology Networks?

Technology Networks Ltd. needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, check out our Privacy Policy

A species of worm with an appetite for polystyrene could be the key to plastic recycling on a mass scale.


Researchers at the University of Queensland have discovered the common Zophobas morio ‘superworm’ can eat through polystyrene, thanks to a bacterial enzyme in their gut. 


Dr Chris Rinke and his team from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences fed superworms different diets over a three week period, with some given polystyrene foam, some bran and others put on a fasting diet. “We found the superworms fed a diet of just polystyrene not only survived, but even had marginal weight gains,” Dr Rinke said. “This suggests the worms can derive energy from the polystyrene, most likely with the help of their gut microbes.”


The researchers used a technique called metagenomics to find several encoded enzymes with the ability to degrade polystyrene and styrene. The long-term goal is to engineer enzymes to degrade plastic waste in recycling plants through mechanical shredding, followed by enzymatic biodegradation.


“Superworms are like mini recycling plants, shredding the polystyrene with their mouths and then feeding it to the bacteria in their gut,” Dr Rinke said. “The breakdown products from this reaction can then be used by other microbes to create high-value compounds such as bioplastics.”


It’s hoped this bio-upcycling will incentivise plastic waste recycling and reduce landfill.


Co-author of the research, PhD candidate Jiarui Sun, said they aim to grow the gut bacteria in the lab and further test its ability to degrade polystyrene. “We can then look into how we can upscale this process to a level required for an entire recycling plant,” Ms Sun said.


Dr Rinke said there are many opportunities for the biodegradation of plastic waste. “Our team is very excited to push the science to make it happen,” he said.


Reference: Sun J, Prabhu A, Aroney STN, Rinke C 2022. Insights into plastic biodegradation: community composition and functional capabilities of the superworm (Zophobas morio) microbiome in styrofoam feeding trials. Micro Geno. 8(6):000842. doi:10.1099/mgen.0.000842


This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.


Advertisement