Plastic pollution is a serious problem for our planet, but unfortunately it was recognized as such just that little bit too little too late. Thankfully, great efforts from the scientific community, environmental groups and government agencies, are now directed towards finding solutions to this huge environmental disaster.
A team of scientists at Stanford just announced a breakthrough in their research on plastics. They discovered that mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, can feed on polystyrene alone, and happily continue living. This is possible because of special microorganisms found in the digestive system of the worms, which break down the plastics without leaving any residual.
This last part was the first point to be addressed when the results of the study circulated the net. There were concerns over the toxicity of the waste that the mealworms produce, however the team behind the study ensured that it is perfectly safe to use as a growing medium for crops.
The only limitation (I guess, for the purpose that we all want to use the little creatures) is that the mealworms are not extremely efficient. One hundred of them can eat just about 40 milligrams of plastic per day, which is quite a small amount. But the researchers have a much bigger aim than just dumping a ton of worms on landfill sites and sit back.
The team is currently looking into the way the microorganisms inside the worms work, hoping to find the process that leads to such incredible results. In addition to this, the guys are planning to observe the predators of the worms and analyze whether an all-plastic diet for the worms has an effect up the food chain.
The incredible findings and more details can be found in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. But, something tells me it will not be the last we hear of these guys.
Image (c) Yu Yang/Stanford