The larvae of the Galleria mellonella, also known as the greater wax moth, could hold the key to solving our plastic bag problem.
Scientists from the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (CSIC), Spain and the University of Cambridge’s department of Biochemistry have found that the caterpillar version of the moth has the ability to digest and break down polyethylene, the material most commonly used in plastic bags, according to Phys.org.
That’s good news for science, because recent discoveries, such as a gut bacteria, aren’t able to do it as fast as the worms can, who munch their way through the bag while digesting them. And to ensure that it’s not just a simple case of them eating the plastic without actually properly biodegrading it, scientists also mashed up the worms (ewww) and smeared the remains on the plastic, and discovered that the polymer chains in the plastic are actually being broken down.
Instead of breeding horse-size caterpillars to digest plastic, though, researchers plan to figure out just what exactly is in the caterpillar — be it the salivary glands or a symbiotic bacteria — is breaking down the plastic. Once that’s solved, it’s possible to replicate the solution on an industrial scale.
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