The larvae that eat plastic

Polystyrene is one of the most used and most difficult to treat plastics in the world. It can last up to 500 years polluting the…

The larva eating plastic

Polystyrene is one of the most used and most difficult to treat plastics in the world. It can last up to 500 years polluting the environment. Except if eaten by a more common than we think larva.

I’m sure you have mountains of poliestireno home. It’s that white plastic which crumbles into pellets. It is also this other material that food trays you bring the supermarket are made. Plastic cups, filling to various objects, insulating … usability and properties of polystyrene make probably most widely used plastic whole Earth . And for that reason it is also a major pollutant. Because human beings, sometimes we do not measure. It is not uncommon, therefore, white and beige plastic debris spread this around. Luckily, it seems that we have a body, at least, able to eat polystyrene and return it to the atmosphere.

Tenebrio , dining polystyrene

We speak, of course the flour beetle, Tenebrio molitor . Surprisingly, the larvae of this beetle (not the beetle itself) is able to eat and degrade the polystyrene easily, making their snack carbon dioxide (like all other living things). Every little larva can eat 0.36 milligrams of polystyrene per day. Polystyrene is a plastic polymer that is obtained from petroleum and which is capable of lasting in the environment up to 500 years until the heat easily destroys. Polymer means consists of a repetition of identical molecules. According to the treatment, using heat, polystyrene acquires one way or another. The larva of Tenebrio is able to eat this polymer and depolymerize, ie destroy these chains then take The polystyrene is from non-biodegradable polymer oil that can last 500 years and mineralizarlas molecules. Mineralization consists of converting these molecules into carbon dioxide.

If we consider that a larva of Tenebrio feeding usually stay for about two months, would be able to feed about 21 , 6 mg. And since larvae do not take more than a few millimeters, could have a bioreactor capable of feeding on kilos and kilos of polystyrene would become CO2. The CO2 can be treated to not release into the atmosphere, having a clean plastic processing plant. Furthermore, it larvae themselves can be used for animal feed or to generate biomass. In addition, Tenebrio is not a species that is particularly invasive and is easy to regulate and control, so could be used even in the treatment in situ Waste polystyrene.

The trick worm

And how can a larva is able to eat such a tough plastic such as polystyrene? This polymer is used, among other reasons, because hardly because rot there is (almost) organisms that consume their molecules. It’s hard to use even by fungi, the famous kingdom eat any thing. But of course, nothing can against bacteria. The microorganisms able to eat even uranium, how could they not be able to polystyrene? Well, we thought that this was so until the arrival of Exiguobacterium sp. , a bacillus that lives in the bowels of small Tenebrio . The bacterium is able to biodegrade the polymer and provide the resulting molecules to larva to this continued cycle, feeding, like sugar it were, and expelling CO2.

This is nothing strange symbiosis. I already talked about that, actually, we holobionts, a set of organisms with its own identity and living through the joint. This is a good example. In fact, Exiguobacterium can live outside the womb of Tenebrio , but their life cycle and their food is not as stable. In fact, the larva gives shelter, protection and ensures its survival in exchange for scraps of bacteria. It is a pretty good price for survival, right ?. Tenebrio molitor is a species of commercial interest for their larvae, know much of their life cycle and habits, which are not dangerous. Now, you also know that is able to eat plastic, you just need to try to put a plastic biodegradation plant running. This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting proposals that we will see in a long time: simple, cheap and clean helpful. What more could you want?


The larvae that eat plastic
October 1, 2015

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