Newly discovered gut compounds let the decomposers do what they do best with leaf litter
M. Liebeke et al/Nature Communications 2015
For not-so-picky eaters, it’s best to have a tough tummy — take it from earthworms.
The wriggling soil dwellers tote chemicals in their guts to counteract hazardous ingredients in plant chow, researchers report online August 4 in Nature Communications. The finding explains how earthworms worldwide can stand to swallow the thousands of tons of plant debris that they churn into fertilizer each year.
“The worms do a great job of munching up all the organic matter,” says study coauthor Manuel Liebeke, a biochemist at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. But, he says, nobody had figured out how they handle harmful plant chemicals called polyphenols.