Lowly Earthworm Sucks Toxins From Poisoned Soil

Rapidly expanding populations in developing nations result in an overwhelming amount of solid and organic waste. In many of these small, struggling nations, there are few or no managed landfills. Much of the waste is simply dumped on the ground near the edge of town. These open air garbage dumps put people at risk for disease and pollute the environment.

In many cases, solid waste leaches heavy metals, cadmium, copper, lead, manganese, and zinc into the soil and water. Now, researchers at India’s Pondicherry University think that wriggling pink earthworms may be the secret to affordable bioremediation of these contaminated sites. How? By doing exactly what they do in your home compost pile.

According to the researchers, Eudrilus eugeniaeEisenia fetida and Perionyx excavates earthworms appear to have digestive systems that are capable of detaching heavy metal ions from the complex aggregates between these ions and humic substances in organic waste as it rots. Now, everything that goes into an earthworm’s mouth eventually appears again on the other end, but scientists say when it comes to these heavy metals, that’s not the case. Various enzyme-driven processes then seem to lead to assimilation of the metal ions by the worms so that they are locked up in the organism’s tissues rather than being released back into the compost as worm casts.

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Image via Thinkstock

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Liling O.2 years ago

And lastly it is frustratingly annoying to see many people are abusing these worms by using them as fish baits!
What is this man? Its very simple just let these earthworms return back to the soil where they truly belongs!
Why these people just will not cut off some of their own flesh and use it as fish baits?

Liling O.2 years ago

We love the earthworms because they are very hardworking and just like the bees, they undeniably helps us alot!
We would even put like 2-3 earthworms in each potted plant and some in the compost

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

i love worms lol.

Beverly G.
bev G.3 years ago

i like them thems cute

Sian Rider
Sian R.3 years ago

"Various enzyme-driven processes then seem to lead to assimilation of the metal ions by the worms so that they are locked up in the organism’s tissues rather than being released back into the compost as worm casts."

This does NOT answer the question of what happens when the earthworm dies and its body tissues break down into the environment.
Maybe just badly worded - but still ....

Jan C.
Janice Cline3 years ago

Please keep in mind these issues of toxic pollution in developing countries when contributing to charities that encourage population growth in countries that cannot support larger populations. Zero Population Growth used to be a respected cause because of such pollution, insufficient food, loss of habitats for animals, poaching, etc. That cause has regrettably been lost and charities encourage population growth in areas that cannot support it. Safe birth control must be distributed around the world. We cannot assume that worms can clean up our messes without further repercussions as posters have noted.

Michael Wecke
Michael Wecke3 years ago

Very interesting! Hopefully some more research will be done. No point in releasing all these earthworms and then finding out - too late - that Heavy Metals turn them into baby eating carnivores. :)

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright3 years ago

Even the "lowly" earthworm has value which is more than I can say for animal abusing, neglectful, torturing and murdering humans. Worms help to make this life possible for the rest of us.

Jessica Larsen

Poor worms!! What does it do to the worms? And the predators who eat them?

J.T. SMITH3 years ago

Guy M, please re-read the last sentence of this article. You'll find that nature has already apparently taken care of that problem.