The functional role of biological organisms as decomposers in natural systems is well studied, with bioremediation representing an anthropomorphised function of this key ecosystem service. As has recently (2017) been discovered, certain insects, such as the larvae of the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella), may even be capable of digesting polyethylene, about 80 million tonnes of which is produced annually on a global scale, primarily for single-use plastic packaging. Identifying plastic degradation pathways in these insects has proven difficult, but opportunities still exist to derive benefit from this process using a whole-organism approach. Given interest in ‘entomophagy’ as a low-carbon, low-emission source of protein, supply chains for entomodigesting species are feasible, effectively transforming yesterday’s food packaging into tomorrow’s dinner.
To realise such a ‘plastics-to-protein’ model, key research questions relating to species/ system optimisation, substrate-specificity and end-product safety, scalability and cost-efficiency need to be addressed. The current project seeks to explore these areas and will train a suitable student in the skills required to undertake this work (e.g. entomology, trait-based ‘breeding’, biochemistry, circular economies, food safety and modelling).
This project is part of the ONE Planet DTP. Find out more here: View Website