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      Biodegradation of Polystyrene by Tenebrio molitor, Galleria mellonella, and Zophobas atratus Larvae and Comparison of Their Degradation Effects

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      Polymers
      MDPI AG

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          Abstract

          Plastic waste pollution and its difficult degradation process have aroused widespread concern. Research has demonstrated that the larvae of Tenebrio molitor (yellow mealworm), Galleria mellonella (greater wax moth), and Zophobas atratus (superworm) possess a biodegradation ability for polystyrene (PS) within the gut microbiota of these organisms. In this study, the difference in PS degradation and the changes of the gut microbiota were compared before and after feeding PS. The results showed that superworm had the strongest PS consumption capacity and the highest survival rate during the 30 d experiment period. They all could degrade PS to different degrees. Superworm showed the highest ability to degrade PS into low-molecular-weight substances, while yellow mealworm depolymerized PS strongly by destroying the benzene ring. The changes of the intestinal microbiome caused by feeding PS showed that after ingesting PS, there was a decrease in community diversity in superworm and yellow mealworm, but an increase in greater wax moth. Meanwhile, Enterococcus and Enterobacteriaceae, found in all three species’ larvae upon 20 d of PS feeding, might play an important role in PS degradation. The results will provide more accurate PS degradation comparative data of the three species’ larvae and theoretical guidance for further research on the efficient PS biodegradations.

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          Degradation Rates of Plastics in the Environment

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            Evidence of polyethylene biodegradation by bacterial strains from the guts of plastic-eating waxworms.

            Polyethylene (PE) has been considered nonbiodegradable for decades. Although the biodegradation of PE by bacterial cultures has been occasionally described, valid evidence of PE biodegradation has remained limited in the literature. We found that waxworms, or Indian mealmoths (the larvae of Plodia interpunctella), were capable of chewing and eating PE films. Two bacterial strains capable of degrading PE were isolated from this worm's gut, Enterobacter asburiae YT1 and Bacillus sp. YP1. Over a 28-day incubation period of the two strains on PE films, viable biofilms formed, and the PE films' hydrophobicity decreased. Obvious damage, including pits and cavities (0.3-0.4 μm in depth), was observed on the surfaces of the PE films using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The formation of carbonyl groups was verified using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and microattenuated total reflectance/Fourier transform infrared (micro-ATR/FTIR) imaging microscope. Suspension cultures of YT1 and YP1 (10(8) cells/mL) were able to degrade approximately 6.1 ± 0.3% and 10.7 ± 0.2% of the PE films (100 mg), respectively, over a 60-day incubation period. The molecular weights of the residual PE films were lower, and the release of 12 water-soluble daughter products was also detected. The results demonstrated the presence of PE-degrading bacteria in the guts of waxworms and provided promising evidence for the biodegradation of PE in the environment.
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              Biodegradation and Mineralization of Polystyrene by Plastic-Eating Mealworms: Part 2. Role of Gut Microorganisms.

              The role of gut bacteria of mealworms (the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus) in polystyrene (PS) degradation was investigated. Gentamicin was the most effective inhibitor of gut bacteria among six antibiotics tested. Gut bacterial activities were essentially suppressed by feeding gentamicin food (30 mg/g) for 10 days. Gentamicin-feeding mealworms lost the ability to depolymerize PS and mineralize PS into CO2, as determined by characterizing worm fecula and feeding with (13)C-labeled PS. A PS-degrading bacterial strain was isolated from the guts of the mealworms, Exiguobacterium sp. strain YT2, which could form biofilm on PS film over a 28 day incubation period and made obvious pits and cavities (0.2-0.3 mm in width) on PS film surfaces associated with decreases in hydrophobicity and the formation of C-O polar groups. A suspension culture of strain YT2 (10(8) cells/mL) was able to degrade 7.4 ± 0.4% of the PS pieces (2500 mg/L) over a 60 day incubation period. The molecular weight of the residual PS pieces was lower, and the release of water-soluble daughter products was detected. The results indicated the essential role of gut bacteria in PS biodegradation and mineralization, confirmed the presence of PS-degrading gut bacteria, and demonstrated the biodegradation of PS by mealworms.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                (View ORCID Profile)
                Journal
                POLYCK
                Polymers
                Polymers
                MDPI AG
                2073-4360
                October 2021
                October 14 2021
                : 13
                : 20
                : 3539
                Article
                10.3390/polym13203539
                34685298
                e1f2ce6e-d5a2-4bbc-acce-23123fba88c2
                © 2021

                https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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