Mealworms Consume and Biodegrade Styrofoam in Stanford Study

Posted on September 30, 2015

Mealworms eating Styrofoam

Stanford scientists may have found a solution to curbing Styrofoam pollution. The engineers found mealworms (the larvae of the darkling beetle) can safely live on polystyrene. The mealworms also biodegrade the polystyrene in the digestion proces.

Mealworms were found to subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene. Microorganisms in the worms' guts biodegrade the plastic in the process. The studies were co-authored by Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford.

Wu says in a statement, "Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem."

In one study 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam per day. They converted about half the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide. The remaining polystyrene was excreted as biodegraded fragments. The scientists found the mealworms eating Styrofoam to be as healthy as mealworms eating a normal diet.

Wu and the project leader and papers' lead author, Jun Yang of Beihang University in China, plan to conduct research to find out whether microorganisms within mealworms and other insects can biodegrade plastics such as polypropylene, microbeads and bioplastics.

The research papers can be found here and here on PubMed.

Photo: Stanford