Oct 19, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

Scientists Found Wax Worms To Do The Job: New, Natural Way To Rid Of Plastics

Apr 26, 2017 02:26 AM EDT


In recent studies, scientists have found that wax worms that are commercially bred for fishing bait have the capability to biodegrade polyethylene. Polyethylene is one of the strongest and most used plastics mostly found blocking up the landfill sites. An example of this is in the form of plastic shopping bags.

Galleria mellonella also known as wax worms is founded by Linnaeus in the year 1758. In the wild, the wax worms live as parasites in bee colonies. In this type of species, it has a male and a female type. The male ones have a particular concave outer edge to the forewing while the female, on the other hand, has usually plainer in appearance with a less concave edge.

According to UKmoths, the name 'Wax Moth' refers to the moth's lifestyle. Wax moths lay their eggs inside hives where the wax worms hatch and grow on beeswax and that is where their name was originated. Its beehives can usually be found across Europe.

This discovery happened when Federica Bertocchini from the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (CSIC) Spain was removing the parasitic pests from the honeycombs in their hives. They kept the wax worms temporarily in a common plastic shopping bag that became poked with holes.

Bertocchini has collaborated with her other colleagues, Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe to conduct a timed experiment. They had around a hundred wax worms that were exposed to a plastic bag from a supermarket in the UK. Then holes started to appear after 40 minutes then 12 hours later, there was a 92 mg decreasing in the plastic mass from the bag.

Per Phys.org, Paolo Bombelli, the first author of the study published today in the journal Current Biology in Cambridge explains that "If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable." Bombelli also added that wax worms will be a great breakthrough since the discovery can be a very important tool for getting rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in the environment.

Polyethylene is the most used in packaging across Europe. It accounts 40% of the total demand for plastic products and up to 38% of these plastics are discarded in landfills. Likewise, these plastics are also highly resistant to breaking down. Smaller pieces of these plastics can choke up ecosystems without degrading it. But with the new discovery of wax worms, scientists are hoping to solve this problem.

While the molecular detail of wax biodegradation requires more investigation, the researchers say it is likely that digesting beeswax and polyethylene involves breaking similar types of chemical bonds. The beeswax on the wax worms grow is composed of a highly diverse mixture of lipid compounds: building block molecules of living cells, including fats, oils, and some hormones. Yet nature may provide an answer.

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