Main content area

Biodegradation of Polystyrene by Dark (Tenebrio obscurus) and Yellow (Tenebrio molitor) Mealworms (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae)

Peng, Bo-Yu, Su, Yiming, Chen, Zhibin, Chen, Jiabin, Zhou, Xuefei, Benbow, Mark Eric, Criddle, Craig S., Wu, Wei-Min, Zhang, Yalei
Environmental science & technology 2019 v.53 no.9 pp. 5256-5265
Enterobacteriaceae, Enterococcaceae, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Spiroplasmataceae, Tenebrio molitor, Tenebrio obscurus, biodegradability, biodegradation, corn flour, depolymerization, diet, digestive system, foams, frass, gentamicin, high-throughput nucleotide sequencing, intestinal microorganisms, larvae, microbial communities, moieties, molecular weight, polystyrenes, wastes, wheat bran, China
Yellow mealworms (larvae of Tenebrio molitor, Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) have been proven to be capable of biodegrading polystyrene (PS) products. Using four geographic sources, we found that dark mealworms (larvae of Tenebrio obscurus) ate PS as well. We subsequently tested T. obscurus from Shandong, China for PS degradation capability. Our results demonstrated the ability for PS degradation within the gut of T. obscurus at greater rates than T. molitor. With expanded PS foam as the sole diet, the specific PS consumption rates for T. obscurus and T. molitor at similar sizes (2.0 cm, 62–64 mg per larva) were 32.44 ± 0.51 and 24.30 ± 1.34 mg 100 larvae–¹ d–¹, respectively. After 31 days, the molecular weight (Mₙ) of residual PS in frass (excrement) of T. obscurus decreased by 26.03%, remarkably higher than that of T. molitor (11.67%). Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) indicated formation of functional groups of intermediates and chemical modification. Thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA) suggested that T. obscurus larvae degraded PS effectively based on the proportion of PS residue. Co-fed corn flour to T. obscurus and wheat bran to T. molitor increased total PS consumption by 11.6% and 15.2%, respectively. Antibiotic gentamicin almost completely inhibited PS depolymerization. High-throughput sequencing revealed significant shifts in the gut microbial community in both Tenebrio species that were associated with the PS diet and PS biodegradation, with changes in three predominant families (Enterobacteriaceae, Spiroplasmataceae, and Enterococcaceae). The results indicate that PS biodegradability may be ubiquitous within the Tenebrio genus which could provide a bioresource for plastic waste biodegradation.