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A species of worm with an appetite for polystyrene

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

Dr Chris Rinke and his team 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 metagenomics technique 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.

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Upcoming Events

Haemovigilance Past, Present and Future

Regency Suite, Brighton Hilton Metropole
6–8 July

BSMT - The Genomic and Microbiology Revolution: In Technology We Trust?

Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London
19 July 2022

Arab Lab Live 2022

Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre Dubai World Trade Centre - Trade Centre - Trade Centre 2 - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
24 - 26 October 2022

Lab Innovations 2022

Hall 2 NEC, Birmingham
2 & 3 November 2022

MEDICA 2022

Messe Düsseldorf D-40474 Düsseldorf, Stockumer Kirchstraße 61
14 - 17 November 2022

Access the latest issue of Pathology In Practice on your mobile device together with an archive of back issues.

Download the FREE Pathology In Practice app from your device's App store

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