One of the reasons environmentalists always purport when speaking about saving nature, is how much there is still to be discovered.
Well, nature has managed to pull a rabbit from her hat yet again, with a plastic-eating mealworm. How cool is that?
Who said plastic meals aren’t natural?
We tend to joke about the plastic nature of food nowadays, and processed food is often purported as unhealthy, and yet nature has gifted us an organism that consumes plastic.
This can make you think that evolution is adapting nature to our changing world, or even that nature has been prepared for plastic all along. Either way, mealworms have been found to be able to eat discarded plastic products, including Styrofoam.
As they would with any normal meal, the worms converted half the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide, and secreted the bulk of it as biodegraded fragments, similar to tiny rabbit droppings, within 24 hours. And the mealworms eating Styrofoam were found to be as healthy as those fed on a normal diet.
Further testing and exploration has shown that mealworms can consume a variety of different kinds of plastics, although researchers are still testing for knock on effects on the animals that may eat those worms.
To date, researchers on the project have experimented with mealworm larvae from darkling beetles, Indian mealmoths and other species, and have so far unpacked that they are able to digest Styrofoam and polyethylene. Research into other types of plastic is still continuing.
Growing plastic consumption needs a natural enemy
Statistics and facts that people love to throw around about plastic consumption range from 93% of Americans test positive for BPA in their systems, to we throw out enough plastic each year to cover the planet four times and 1500 bottles of water are bought every second in the States.
But it’s a fact of life – plastic consumption is climbing. Almost everything we use or touch is plastic or plastic coated. It’s an inherent past of our lives.
Sadly, the consumer culture is an inherent part of our lives too, and alongside that comes the disposable nature of things.
Between 2008 and 2015, the volume of plastic discarded increased by 37.5-million tons a year, to 297.5-million tons.
As our society continues to expand and introduce new conveniences and luxuries, the growing plastic pollution problem is going to get ever worse.
These latest discoveries may be just what we need to start turning that tide.