We all know that plastic bags are a great threat to the environment, fueling plastic pollution. A new documentary demonstrated that Americans use approximately 102 billion plastic bags every year. At a waste dump, plastic can last for about 1,000 years. Plastic is harmful to the environment, destabilizing the habitat of many species. For instance, a manatee in a Florida zoo died after eating many plastic bags.
- Scientists revealed that wax worms can digest plastic bags.
- They may be used to reduce the overall quantity of waste.
- It was proved that these caterpillars are able to metabolize polyethylene.
Despite the fact that plastic bags represent a pest for nature, they are useful, too. Federica Bertocchini, a biologist at Spain’s Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, used plastic bags to gather wax worms. She revealed that some caterpillars, the larvae of the moth Galleria mellonella, consumed bee was and honey.
She decided to collect these wax worms from beehives and put them into plastic bags. Thus, she unveiled that these caterpillars poked holes in those plastic bags. This made her contact her colleagues at the University of Cambridge, Christopher Howe, and Paolo Bombelli. They were very excited to investigate this new finding and reveal more data.
On April 24, the three researchers published their work in the journal Current Biology (http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)30231-2 ), proving that wax worms do not only chew on plastic, but they feed on it. They can digest polyethylene, producing ethylene glycol. Bertocchini noted that the three of them were interested in the plastic biodegradation problem for a while and they found this very useful.
This new study developed by them is the most recent one which indicates that some organisms can process plastic. Back in 2015, some researchers at Stanford University have argued that mealworms, which are the beetle larvae serving as fishing bait, can digest Styrofoam, transforming it into carbon dioxide.
In 2016, some Japanese researchers unveiled that microbes which live near a bottle-recycling plant may be able to metabolize plastic. Bertocchini argued that when they compared the wax worm with the bacteria located near the recycling facility, they unveiled that the caterpillar is faster at digesting plastic. In the new study, scientists looked at 100 worms which manage to eat 92 milligrams of plastic in 12 hours.
To demonstrate that the source of caterpillars’ power came from their guts, researchers transformed the wax worms into a paste and spread it on a plastic sample. They revealed that in 14 hours the paste eroded 13% of the mass of polyethylene. Do you think that scientists could use these caterpillars to reduce the quantity of waste at a global level?
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