Another way to recycle plastic

May 24, 2018

Dinner is served

PLASTIC production has tripled over the past 25 years, and the mess it causes has risen commensurately. Recycling is one option. Another is biology, and with that in mind researchers have been hunting for creatures that can digest plastics. Several species of fungi and bacteria can do the job, but only slowly. Now Anja Brandon, a student at Stanford University, and her research supervisor, Craig Criddle, have found that bacteria in the guts of mealworms can break down polymers much more quickly.

Other researchers had already found that mealworms can digest a particular plastic called polystyrene. Ms Brandon and Dr Criddle wondered whether polystyrene was uniquely palatable, or whether the bacteria in the worms’ guts might be able to eat other sorts of plastic, too. To check, they turned to polyethylene, which is both more common than polystyrene and very different in chemical terms. If the worms found it nutritious as well, that would...

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