IMR Press / FBE / Volume 15 / Issue 2 / DOI: 10.31083/j.fbe1502011
Open Access Short Communication
Ingestion of Nylon 11 Polymers by the Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) Beetle and Subsequent Enrichment of Monomer-Metabolizing Bacteria in Fecal Microbiome
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1 School of Sciences, Indiana University Kokomo, Kokomo, IN 46902, USA
*Correspondence: (Hisako Masuda)
Front. Biosci. (Elite Ed) 2023, 15(2), 11;
Submitted: 8 October 2022 | Revised: 1 November 2022 | Accepted: 7 November 2022 | Published: 5 May 2023
Copyright: © 2023 The Author(s). Published by IMR Press.
This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Background: Nylon 11 is a synthetic plastic widely used in commercial products such as tubing for automobiles, offshore oilfields, and medical devices. An increasing amount of nylon and other plastic wastes have been released into various environments, posing ecological threats. The biodegradation of bundled nylon polymers has been considered impossible due to their crystalline structures. Methods: Nylon 11 film was created and incubated with adult mealworms. The mass, as well as structures, of nylon 11 films at pre- and post-incubation with beetles were compared. The number of nylon 11 monomer degrading bacteria in feces were determined by culture-dependent approach. The t-test was utilized to examine the statistical significance. Results: We discovered that adult mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) beetle can ingest nylon 11 when stretched thin. The microscopic observation of their feces did not identify the presence of large fragments of nylon 11. The analysis of fecal bacteria revealed that while the total number of culturable bacteria did not change significantly, the number of 11-aminoundecanoic acid-metabolizing bacteria increased by 10,000-fold. Conclusions: Our results suggest that bundled nylon 11 polymers were fragmented into smaller pieces, including monomeric units (11-aminoundecanoic acid) by adult mealworm. The monomers seem to have supported the proliferation of gut microbial communities capable of utilizing 11-aminoundecanoic acid as a carbon and nitrogen source. Our work implies the potential use of the mealworm beetle as a means to fragment nylon polymers for remediation applications.

nylon biodegradation
plastics biodegradation
gut microbiota
mealworm beetle
Tenebrio molitor
Grants-in-Aid from Indiana University Kokomo
Fig. 1.
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