Worms May Save the World From Plastic Glut

Wax Worm, unlikely ally fighting plastic pollution

Worm guts may save the world from the avalanche of plastic accumulating  in the environment. Humans produce about 80 million tonnes of polyethylene every year. An amateur beekeeper in Spain has discovered a caterpillar that actually munches and thrives on the plastic. It helps that Federica Bertocchini is a biologist working at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology in Spain.

She noticed that her beehives were infested with these “worms”, the larvae of the wax moth, Galleria mellonella, and were happily munching through her honeycombs. She tossed them into a plastic bag and found they quickly escaped by chewing holes in the bag.

Polyethylene is slow to biodegrade and often fails to do so over many months. Scientists have tried exposing it to various life forms like bacteria and fungi but the process is slow. The wax worms are fast, munching holes in the plastic and converting it to ethylene glycol.

The wax moths may be found in Europe, Eurasia, N. America and Australia. While they can be a nuisance to beekeepers, they may be useful allies in fighting plastic pollution.
Adult wax worm moth, Galleria mellonella

Further reading:

Science Magazine                         

Current Biology               

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