The larvae of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) can be a valuable tool for the development of plastic bioconversion strategies, thanks to genes of bacteria residing in their intestines: this is the discovery made by a research group from the University of Milan, in collaboration with the University of Naples Federico II and the University of Insubria, recently published in Microbiome.

The larvae of H. illucens are efficient bioconversion agents that have been the subject of numerous studies. “These insects can thrive on a wide variety of organic waste, by-products, and residues from the agri-food industry, which are thus ‘biotransformed’ into high-value molecules for various sectors.

From the larvae and pupae, it is possible to produce feed meal, extract proteins for the synthesis of bioplastics and other biomaterials useful in the biomedical field, oils for biofuel production, as well as chitin and antimicrobial peptides,” explains Professor Morena Casartelli, head of the Laboratory of Insect Physiology and Entomological Biotechnologies at the Department of Biosciences of the University of Milan. In recent years, she has studied various aspects of the biology and intestinal physiology of these larvae.

In the study, the larvae of H. illucens were raised on polyethylene and polystyrene, and their ability to degrade these polymers, demonstrated through NMR spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy, is the result of specific functions possessed by the bacteria residing in their intestines.

From the analysis of the intestinal microbiome, which is the genetic heritage of the microbial community residing in the intestinal lumen, approximately 1,000 partial genomes of unknown bacterial species were reconstructed, and it was possible to identify several genes potentially involved in plastic degradation, such as laccase and peroxidase.

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