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Beetles with larvae that can digest polystyrene may be the answer to the worlds increasing plastic problem!

A dramatic statement for sure, but we need a dramatic solution! Unfortunately, it is hard these days to find a household or business which is completely plastic free and due the extreme use of plastic globally, landfills are becoming clogged up at an alarming rate, not to mention the oceans pollution issue too.

A natural solution?

Up until recently, there has been no way to naturally break down plastics, but the Department of Chemical Engineering at Pohan University of Science and Technology have discovered that the darkling beetle, ‘Plesiophthalmus davidis’ has larvae that can consume polystyrene and reduce its molecular weight and mass.

Polystyrene is a plastic that decomposes at an extremely low speed due to its specific molecular structure and scientists are now convinced that this beetle (indigenous to East Asia), may be the breakthrough we have all been waiting for.

Scientific Discovery

Firstly, scientists identified the Serratia bacteria that is found in the intestinal tract of the beetle larvae. They then continued feeding the beetle larvae polystyrene for two weeks, and when they re-examined the Serratia bacteria, the amount present in the gut flora was seen to have dramatically increased.

This research into the larvae and the unique diet that they consume has opened up the possibility that other insects who have a diet of rotten wood also may have the ability to break down the mass and molecular weight of polystyrene.

Scientists also expect that there may be further research into the use of the polystyrene decomposing flora, using the strains of bacteria found in the gut of the beetle larvae. If scientists can use this bacterial strain and replicate the exact floral composition, there may be the opportunity to completely biodegrade polystyrene. Polystyrene is extremely difficult to completely decompose and using this new discovery of the beetle larvae, we may have a solution to the extremely detrimental plastic problem that the world is fighting.

Earlier in 2020, an enzyme was discovered by scientists working for a chemistry business which can disassemble polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for recycling in a matter of hours. PET is a plastic that is extremely hard to break down and takes 500-700 years to naturally biodegrade.