How Do Worms Turn Garbage into Compost?

This week Reactions dug our hands into some earthworm science. Some pretty useful chemistry comes out of these little critters in the form of compost. If you’re enjoying some tasty food today that has at least one ingredient that was farmed somewhere, you probably owe a little thanks to earthworms. How is it that these detritivores – literally dirt eaters – turn what humans find inedible into beloved compost? After the biology and physics of swallowing and “chewing”, like us it’s all chemistry for digestion. But earthworms have an extra enzyme that allows them to munch through cellulose, the ultimate fiber of that makes tree bark a non-starter in human diets. Yet all this powerful chemistry means not everyone sees earthworms as the greatest creature to crawl – find out all the dirt in this video.

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Sam Lemonick

Narrator/Scientific Consultant/Co-writer:
Darcy Gentleman, Ph.D.

Scientific Consultant:
Kyle Nackers

Executive Producer:
Adam Dylewski

Video Producer:
Sean Parsons



Calcium secretion
this last reference, published in 2011, contains the line “ The function 16 that these granules serve for the earthworm is unknown (Darwin, 1881; Robertson, 1936; 17 Piearce, 1972; Briones et al., 2008) but previous studies have shown that earthworm granules 18 are commonplace in soils (Ponomareva, 1948; Wiecek and Messenger, 1972; Bal, 1977; 19 Canti, 1998)”
(preprint pdf [?] here

Megadrile biological classification

Nitrogen cycle to understand bacteria role

Ever wonder why dogs sniff each others’ butts? Or how Adderall works? Or whether it’s OK to pee in the pool? We’ve got you covered: Reactions a web series about the chemistry that surrounds you every day.

Reactions is produced by the American Chemical Society.

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