Biodegradation and mineralization of polystyrene by plastic-eating mealworms: Part 1. Chemical and physical characterization and isotopic tests

Yu Yang, Jun Yang, Wei-Min Wu, Jiao Zhao, Yiling Song, Longcheng Gao, Ruifu Yang, Lei Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Polystyrene (PS) is generally considered to be durable and resistant to biodegradation. Mealworms (the larvae of Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus) from different sources chew and eat Styrofoam, a common PS product. The Styrofoam was efficiently degraded in the larval gut within a retention time of less than 24 h. Fed with Styrofoam as the sole diet, the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of 1 month. The analysis of fecula egested from Styrofoam-feeding larvae, using gel permeation chromatography (GPC), solid-state 13C cross-polarization/magic angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance (CP/MAS NMR) spectroscopy, and thermogravimetric Fourier transform infrared (TG-FTIR) spectroscopy, substantiated that cleavage/depolymerization of long-chain PS molecules and the formation of depolymerized metabolites occurred in the larval gut. Within a 16 day test period, 47.7 of the ingested Styrofoam carbon was converted into CO2 and the residue (ca. 49.2 ) was egested as fecula with a limited fraction incorporated into biomass (ca. 0.5% ). Tests with alph a13C- or β 13C-labeled PS confirmed that the 13C-labeled PS was mineralized to 13CO2 and incorporated into lipids. The discovery of the rapid biodegradation of PS in the larval gut reveals a new fate for plastic waste in the environment
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12080-12086
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Volume49
Issue number20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

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