A project conducted by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) recently confirmed that a species of mother caterpillar commonly known as wax worms are able to degrade plastic. They can turn it into natural materials at a much faster rate than such degradation would occur without their influence.
Additional research is still needed in order to determine if this is a viable method for clearing up plastics. These have been causing quite a problem for the environment.
This Caterpillar Can Eat Plastic?
Like other scientific discoveries, this one began as an accidental observation. The impetus for the study occurred when a biologist at the University of Cantabria noticed that a number of wax worms had chewed through a plastic bag. Removed from a beehive, they were initially disposed of in this latter.
This led to a study in which 100 caterpillars were placed on polyethylene and left there. Overnight, the plastic was degraded at a rate of nearly a gram per caterpillar. The cocoons of the worms were also observed to cause such a degeneration. Currently, the researchers hypothesize that wax worms are able to biodegrade polyethylene because it is similar in structure to beeswax. The species naturally eats this latter.
Prior to this discovery, plastic has not been observed to biodegrade. This is a much faster process than chemical degradation. As such, this is an exciting potential solution to the plastic problems related to pollution.
Now, the study team stated that it would be investigating the chemical processes involved. The worms themselves do not eat quickly enough to use them on a large scale. But if the chemical process can be replicated, then it could potentially be used to degrade industrial waste.
Paolo Bombelli, the study’s first author said: “This discovery could be an important tool for helping to get rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in landfill sites and oceans.”
However, the scientists cautioned that this discovery does not mean we can become careless with our plastic waste. It is still important to recycle. The team published a paper with its discovery in the Current Biology journal.
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