Polystyrene, which most of us know as styrofoam, is a plastic that's particularly difficult to get rid of once it has been manufactured. When the foam degrades, it mostly just breaks down into smaller pieces, which find their way into the ecosystem and are ingested by fish and other animals. But now scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia have identified a "superworm" that is attracted to and will eat polystyrene. The larvae of Zophobas morio darkling beetles can eat styrofoam and digest it! The worms that were offered a diet of styrofoam only even gained weight, but they did not exactly thrive, as styrofoam does not provide all the nutrients they need.
However, this discovery opens a door for more than one plastic-destroying scheme. We know the best strategy is to manufacture and use less styrofoam, but the worms could be harnessed to "eat away," as it were, at the existing supply of discarded packing peanuts and to-go cups. They could be farmed, and fed a diet of styrofoam plus food waste to keep them healthy. Or better yet, scientists want to study them and see if the enzymes in the worms' guts can be synthesized to break down plastic on an industrial scale. -via Damn Interesting
(Image credit: University of Queensland)
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