A Little Help From a Friend

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Researchers recently discovered that the larvae of the darkling beetle can survive on Styrofoam, the Washington Post reported.

Commonly known as “superworms,” the tiny organisms are equipped with a set of enzymes that can break down polystyrene products – better known as Styrofoam, they wrote in a new paper.

To test this, they split the larvae into three groups and fed each one a separate diet: One group was given a “healthy” solution of bran, the second was given polystyrene, and the third was given no food at all.

The team found that 90 percent of the larvae fed bran developed into beetles, compared to around 66 percent of those given polystyrene and 10 percent of those left to starve.

They concluded that superworms produce an enzyme that can digest Styrofoam. The next step is to study these enzymes to see how they can be used in digesting Styrofoam on a large scale.

Although the authors and other scientists cautioned that there are many challenges ahead, they believe the superworm could help recycle the Styrofoam waste that accounts for as much as 30 percent of landfill space worldwide.

“You cannot really escape plastic anymore – plastic waste is everywhere,” said co-author Christian Rinke. “This is definitely a new, arguably better, environmentally friendly way to break it down.”

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