Dark beetle larvae were able to eat foam

(ORDO NEWS) — The intestinal microflora of zophobuses can decompose inert polystyrene foam, allowing insect larvae to feed only on it and at the same time grow quietly. Perhaps this ability will help create new technologies for the recycling of foam.

Dark beetles are a large family of beetles, which include zophobuses ( Zophobas morio ). These are very unpretentious insects when breeding, so their larvae are actively used as food for domestic reptiles. And in the future, they may be grown on an even larger scale – already for the sake of combating environmental pollution.

A new study by Australian scientists has shown that zophobus larvae can absorb polystyrene foam – that is, ordinary foam, which itself decomposes extremely slowly in natural conditions. Christian Rinke and his co-authors write about this in an article published in the journal Microbial Genomics.

Expanded polystyrene is a wonderful material in many ways, which is why it is used very widely, primarily as a heat insulator in construction.

But this also creates huge amounts of such wastes, chemically and biologically inert, which by themselves practically do not decompose under natural conditions. This is where zophobus beetles can come to the rescue.

Christian Rinke and his colleagues from the University of Queensland followed the condition of the zophobus larvae for three weeks. At the same time, one group was fed with bran, the other with polystyrene, and the third was kept without food at all (which is not fatal for these insects).

As a result, the insects that ate Styrofoam looked and behaved completely normal and even gained a little weight compared to the starving ones.

In due course, they completed their life cycle, turning into pupae, and then into adults. All this indicates that the larvae successfully assimilated organic matter even from their foam diet.

Scientists were familiar with past work on the subject, which linked insects’ ability to absorb synthetic polymers to microbes living in their gut.

Therefore, Rinke and co-authors performed sequencing of the microflora of zophobus larvae: as a result, it turned out that it contains representatives of Pseudomonas, Rhodococcus, and Corynebacterium, whose genomes contain enzymes that decompose polystyrene.

In fact, some other insects, in particular, flour beetle larvae , have previously demonstrated a similar ability to digest polystyrene foam with the help of microflora. However, zofobuses as a tool for recycling polystyrene look more promising.

They are extremely stable, simple and cheap to breed, and this process has long been established. Perhaps, specialists will only need to scale up existing production. And perhaps it will be possible to get by with bioreactors with bacterial cultures that can decompose polystyrene even more efficiently.

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