Worms that can eat plastic could save us from destroying the planet.

You tell me what's more repulsive: A Styrofoam cup laying on the ground...

Photo by jnyemb/Flickr


...or a pile of slimy, pulsing mealworms?

Photo by OakleyOriginals/Flickr

Wait! Before you answer, what if it was more than just one piece of Styrofoam — like 33 million tons of it?

And what if it wasn't just cups, but Styrofoam packaging, water bottles, and all different kinds of discarded plastic?

And what if it wasn't strewn across the grass, but instead dumped into one massive trench? Or worse, what if a bunch of it was just floating in the ocean, waiting to be swallowed up by some helpless sea creature?

When you put it like that, the answer seems pretty obvious.

Yuck. Photo by Pascal Pochard Casabianca/AFP/Getty Images.

But here's something new and surprising: Those wiggly little mealworms might just be the key to fighting plastic pollution all over the world.

Image by Kitty Curran/Upworthy.

Time for us to fess up: We, as a species, are not very good at recycling.

In the United States alone, every year we throw away about 33 million tons of plastic waste (including Styrofoam, which is basically fluffy plastic), with less than 10% of it being recycled properly.

Now, it's not all our fault. Modern recycling techniques have come a long way, but they aren't perfect. According to Popular Mechanics, materials like the ones used to make soda bottles can only be recycled (or "downcycled" into lesser products) so many times.

That means, one way or another, most of it will end up in a landfill eventually, where it could take centuries to biodegrade.

But it looks like we might be onto an amazing, if slightly unappetizing, solution.

Researchers just discovered that mealworms can eat nothing but Styrofoam, turn it into biodegradable worm poo, and get all the nutrition they need.

This is huge.

A collaborative study between Stanford University and Chinese researchers found that 100 of these mealworms, which are essentially baby beetles, could consume almost 40 milligrams of Styrofoam per day. Now, that's not a lot (it takes 453,592 milligrams to equal one pound), but the implications are much, much larger.

There are plenty of bugs out there that eat plastic, but this is the first time researchers have confirmed that what comes out the, er, other end is, in fact, totally natural. And even better? Eating the stuff doesn't harm the worms in the least.

Image by Kitty Curran/Upworthy.

In other words, something magical is going on inside these mealworms that lets them turn hazardous plastic into harmless organic waste.

Studying the chemical environment inside the mealworms' gut that makes this possible might lead to better recycling techniques.

When I first read about this, I imagined government officials unleashing hoards of mealworms on our landfills for an epic buffet, but unfortunately, that doesn't seem super plausible — remember, they eat really, really slowly.

Image by Kitty Curran/Upworthy.

But what if we could emulate the mechanisms inside their stomachs that break down the plastic? If we could just recreate that environment on a larger scale, we wouldn't have to work so hard melting down bottles and turning them back into new bottles.

We could just transform them into the equivalent of worm poo, which the researchers say can be used as soil and is totally safe for the Earth.

But you know what? None of this will matter if we don't get better at sorting our trash and recycling the things that ought to be recycled.

I never thought I'd say this, but if we work together with the mealworms, we really can make a difference.

Heroes

Image by Brent Connelly from Pixabay and sixthformpoet / Twitter

Twitter user Matt, who goes by the name @SixthFormPoet, shared a dark love story on Twitter that's been read by nearly 600,000 people. It starts in a graveyard and feels like it could be the premise for a Tim Burton film.

While it's hard to verify whether the story is true, Matt insists that it's real, so we'll believe him.

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"Clay's tallest story" is one we should all stop to listen to, no matter how much we think we know about mental health. What starts off as a forgettable fishing video quickly turns into a powerful metaphor about mental health.

What would you do if an unexpected gust of wind pushed your boat out to sea? You'd call for help. It's so obvious, why would anyone think differently? But when it comes to our mental health, things often appear so much more unnecessarily complicated. Thanks for the reminder, Clay!


Clay’s Tallest Story www.youtube.com

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Approximately 10% of the population is left-handed, and the balance between lefties and righties has been the same for almost 5,000 years. People used to believe that left-handed people were evil or unlucky. The word "sinister" is even derived from the Latin word for "left."

In modern times, the bias against lefties for being different is more benign – spiral notebooks are a torture device, and ink gets on their hands like a scarlet letter. Now, a new study conducted at the University of Oxford and published in Brain is giving left-handers some good news. While left-handers have been struggling with tools meant for right-handers all these years, it turns out, they actually possess superior verbal skills.

Researchers looked at the DNA of 400,000 people in the U.K. from a volunteer bank. Of those 400,000 people, 38,332 were southpaws. Scientists were able to find the differences in genes between lefties and righties, and that these genetic variants resulted in a difference in brain structure, too. "It tells us for the first time that handedness has a genetic component," Gwenaëlle Douaud, joint senior author of the study and a fellow at Oxford's Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, told the BBC.

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Pete the Plant is a maidenhair fern living in the Rainforest Life exhibit at the London Zoo, but Pete the Plant isn't like other plants. Pete the Plant is also a budding photographer. Scientists in the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) conservation tech unit has been teaching the plant how to take selfies.

The ZSL held a competition in partnership with Open Plant, Cambridge University, and the Arribada Initiative for the design of a fuel cell powered by plants. Plant E in the Netherlands produced the winning design. The prototype cell creates electricity from the waste from the plant's roots. The electricity will be used to charge a battery that's attached to a camera. Once Pete the Plant grows strong enough, it will then use the camera to take a selfie. Not too bad for a plant.

"As plants grow, they naturally deposit biomatter into the soil they're planted in, which bacteria in the soil feeds on – this creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of conservation tools," Al Davies, ZSL's conservation technology specialist, explains.

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