Retention and excretion of microplastics by Yellow Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) larvae reared on an amino formaldehyde polymer microbeads contaminated substrate
Yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor L., TM), one of the main cultured insect species, is used for feed and food. Larval stages of this species can be reared on several substrates, including grains and industrial by-products. However, this species may potentially accumulate contaminants from the substrate, including microplastics (MPs), which may represent a potential hazard for its utilization in food chain. Evidences for plastic degradation by mealworms have been reported, while there are few information about the retention of microplastics in the body and tissues of this species. The aim of the present study was to assess whether TM larvae reared on a MPs-contaminated substrate were able to retain MPs in body tissues and to evaluate the retention and excretion rate after fasting for 24 and 48 hours. For this purpose, fluorescent amino formaldehyde polymer microbeads (1-5 µm) were used to simulate a MPs contamination in the substrate used for larvae rearing. A relevant concentration of MPs were found in the gut and were associated with ingested feed. However, microscopic analyses indicated that the gut acts as a simple transit site and a barrier towards MPs migration in tissues. A marked reduction of MPS content was highlighted in larvae after fasting, even though a 48-hours fasting period was not sufficient to completely depurate insect gut from MPs. Results obtained in the present study suggest that the polymer microbeads used are recalcitrant to digestion by TM larvae, and show the relevant ability of depuration from MPs of this species. Taken together the results showed the suitability of TM to be reared on MPs contaminated substrates since larvae survival and growth resulted not hampered by the MPs presence and open cues on the fasting period able to completely depurate insect body from MPs residues.