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The End of Plastic Landfill? Researchers Discover Caterpillar that Eats Plastic; It’s Called a “Wax Worm”

Caterpillar compactor working in a landfill

  • The End of Plastic Landfill? Researchers Discover Caterpillar that Eats Plastic; It’s Called a “Wax Worm”
    by , http://www.naturalnews.com/
    (Natural News) Plastic-eating caterpillars known as “wax worms” may one day help reduce the global pollution crisis, a study revealed. Prior to the study, an amateur beekeeper was cleaning her hives and placed the parasitic wax worms in a plastic bag, only to find out that the caterpillars were able to make holes in the plastic. As part of the study, a team of researchers from the Cambridge University in the U.K. and the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria in Spain examined 100 wax worms that were let loose on a plastic bag. The research team noted that holes started appearing in the plastic after a 40-minute mark. The study also revealed that the worms consumed as much as 92 mg of plastic after 12 hours. In comparison, previous research on bacteria showed that the microbes were only able to eliminate 0.13 mg of plastic in 24 hours.

    Data from a spectroscopic analysis also showed that chemical bonds present in plastic started to degrade when exposed to the caterpillars. The study also revealed that the insects were able to convert polyethylene into ethylene glycoll. The researchers inferred that the mechanism might be similar to how wax worms digest beeswax.

    “It’s extremely, extremely exciting because breaking down plastic has proved so challenging. If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable,” said researcher Paolo Bombelli in an article in Telegraph.co.uk.

    However, researchers stressed that while the findings may show potential in plastic management, people should not deliberately dispose polyethylene.

    “We have found that the larva of a common insect, Galleria mellonella, is able to biodegrade one of the toughest, most resilient, and most used plastics: polyethylene…We are planning to implement this finding into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste, working towards a solution to save our oceans, rivers, and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation. However, we should not feel justified to dump polyethylene deliberately in our environment just because we now know how to bio-degrade it,” researcher Federica Bertocchini noted in a separate article in ScienceDaily.com.

    The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

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May 3, 2017 - Posted by | Science & Technology, Social Trends

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