Superverses that only eat plastic become ‘mini-recycling factories’

The scale of the plastic litter problem has led scientists to search for solutions, and for a team from Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ), that search has led them to hungry little creatures known as ‘super worms’. “. These tiny creatures have been shown to have a healthy appetite for plastic waste.which the researchers were able to trace back to specific enzymes in their gut bacteria that convert them into energy, which even led the worms to gain weight.

The species of zophobas morio The ones this study focused on earned the nickname “supervers” because of their muscular and tall nature, and research began to hint at their plastic waste degradation potential.

The UQ team investigated these possibilities by studying the gut microbiome of zophobas morio subjected to different diets for a period of three weeks: one group fed with bran, another with Styrofoam and another with hunger.

This caused dramatic differences in gut microbial communities, with those starved and fed polystyrene showing less microbial diversity and greater presence of pathogens. Although the polystyrene-fed group experienced these negative health effects, they gained weight due to their plastic diet.

We found that supervers fed a polystyrene diet not only survived, but even gained marginal weight. This suggests that worms can obtain energy from polystyrene, most likely using their gut microbes.

Dr. Chris Rinke, Research Director.

Using a technique called metagenomics, scientists have been able to identify a set of bacterial enzymes responsible for the degradation of polystyrene, which confirms the hypotheses put forward in previous research. This is the first glimpse into the metabolic pathways that allow superverses to break down polystyrene, a process that scientists say even produces valuable byproducts.

Superverses are like mini-recycling stations, shredding Styrofoam with their mouths and delivering it to the bacteria in their gut. The breakdown products of this reaction can be used by other microbes to create valuable compounds, such as bioplastics.

Chris Rinke

The findings add to a growing list of findings that demonstrate how enzymes can degrade plastics and therefore could play an important role in our waste management efforts.

These include fast-acting enzymes that break down plastics in as little as 24 hours, enzymes that reduce plastics to a single molecule, enzymes that can embed themselves into plastic to help break down and engineered “superenzymes” that gobble up plastics. high-speed waste.

The UQ team hopes to design versions of these enzymes that can work with mechanical systems in recycling plants to biodegrade plastics once they’ve been shredded. Now he’s focusing on that possibility, starting by growing the superworm’s gut bacteria in the lab and testing its ability to break down polystyrene.

We can then look at how to scale this process up to the level required for a full recycling plant.

Jiarui Sun, co-author of the study.

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