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Meal Worms May Be A Possible Solution To Plastics And Styrofoam Pollution

First Posted: Oct 01, 2015 12:21 PM EDT

Meal worms that consume styrofoam may be the safe answer to dealing with plastic and styrofoam waste, reveal scientists and researchers from Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment in China in a recent news release.

Plastic waste remains an overwmelning environmental hazard and is linked to animal poisoning and water pollution, but meal worms contain microorganisms in their guts that are capable of breaking down plastics during the digestive process.

In setting out to prove this, researchers fed 100 meal-worms 34 to 39 milligrams of Styrofoam each day, which is about the weight of an aspirin pill. More than half of the Styrofoam was converted into carbon (like any other kind of food they consume) and they were no less healthy than mealworms fed a traditional diet, according to the news release.

"Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem," said senior research engineer Wei-Min Wu of Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

In previous studies, Wu and the other researchers revealed that wax-worms, which are the larvae of Indian meal moths possess microorganisms in their guts which can break down polyethylene, which is a type of plastic product. However, their research on Styrofoam was a major breakthrough since, Styrofoam was classified as a non-biodegradable product and remains a threat and an environmental hazard.

Wu's co-researcher Craig Criddle, who oversees plastics research at Stanford has collaborated with researchers from China to study the microorganisms found in meal worms and other insects to determine if they can breakdown even more kinds of plastics via digestion.

This potential breakthrough can help scientists determine what types of enzymes they can generate to biodegrade plastics. It can also aid manufacturers in take an environmentally friendly approach when producing plastic products so that plastic do not continue to build up in the environment over time. 

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