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Biodegradation of polystyrene wastes in yellow mealworms (larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus): Factors affecting biodegradation rates and the ability of polystyrene-fed larvae to complete their life cycle

Yang, Shan-Shan, Brandon, Anja Malawi, Andrew Flanagan, James Christopher, Yang, Jun, Ning, Daliang, Cai, Shen-Yang, Fan, Han-Qing, Wang, Zhi-Yue, Ren, Jie, Benbow, Eric, Ren, Nan-Qi, Waymouth, Robert M., Zhou, Jizhong, Criddle, Craig S., Wu, Wei-Min
Chemosphere 2018 v.191 pp. 979-989
Tenebrio molitor, biodegradability, biodegradation, bran, depolymerization, digestive system, eggs, foams, food waste, frass, lakes, larvae, oceans, oxidation, plastics, polystyrenes, pupae, rivers, selection methods, survival rate, temperature
Commercial production of polystyrene (PS) -a persistent plastic that is not biodegradable at appreciable rates in most environments-has led to its accumulation as a major contaminant of land, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Recently, however, an environment was identified in which PS is susceptible to rapid biodegradation: the larval gut of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus (yellow mealworms). In this study, we evaluate PS degradation capabilities of a previously untested strain of T. molitor and assess its survival and PS biodegradation rates for a range of conditions (two simulated food wastes, three temperatures, seven PS waste types). For larvae fed PS alone, the %PS removed in the short (12–15 h) residence time of the mealworm gut gradually increased for 2–3 weeks then stabilized at values up to 65%. Thirty two-day survival rates were >85% versus 54% for unfed larvae. For mealworms fed ∼10% w/w PS and ∼90% bran, an agricultural byproduct, rates of PS degradation at 25 °C nearly doubled compared to mealworms fed PS alone. Polymer residues in the frass showed evidence of partial depolymerization and oxidation. All of the tested PS wastes degraded, with the less dense foams degrading most rapidly. Mealworms fed bran and PS completed all life cycle stages (larvae, pupae, beetles, egg), and the second generation had favorable PS degradation, opening the door for selective breeding.