Polystyrene (PS) is a plastic polymer extensively used for food packaging. PS is difficult to decompose and has low recycling rates, resulting in its accumulation in the environment, in the form of microplastic particles causing pollution and harming oceans and wildlife. Degradation of PS by mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) has been suggested as a possible biological strategy for plastic contamination; however, the biodegradation mechanism of PS by mealworms is poorly understood. It is hypothesized that the gut microbiome plays an important role in the degradation of PS by mealworms. This study carried out a comparative analysis of the gut microbiome of Tenebrio molitor larvae under different feeding strategies, and of the formation of degradation compounds (monomers, oligomers). A diet of bran:PS at 4:1 and 20:1 ratios was tested. The diet with the low ratio of bran:PS led to the presence of higher amounts of these compounds, compared to that with the high ratio. In addition, it was demonstrated that the addition of H2O significantly improved the biodegradation of PS monomer and oligomer residues, which could be identified only in the frass. The protein and nitrogen contents in insects’ biomass and frass varied amongst treatments. The diets resulted in differences in the gut microbiota, and three potential bacterial strains were identified as candidates involved in the biodegradation of PS.
- Biodegradation of polystyrene (PS)
- Degradation compounds
- Gut microbiome
- Tenebrio molitor larvae