Wax Worms Can Break Down Plastic With Their Saliva | My Modern Met

By Madeleine Muzdakis on October 17, 2022

A wax worm eats plastic. (Photo: CSIC Communications Department/PA)

This incredible discovery could revolutionize how we deal with plastic waste.

A scientist was tending to her amateur beehives one day when she noticed something strange. She had removed a bunch of wax worms—larvae that live in beehives and feast upon the wax combs—and placed them in a plastic trash bag. Strangely, the bag was now full of holes. “We found it wasn’t only chewing,” Dr. Federica Bertocchini from the Biological Research Centre in Madrid recalls, “it was [chemical breakdown], so that was the beginning of the story.” It turns out the worms have powerful enzymes in their saliva which can rapidly degrade polyethylene, a type of plastic. Researchers who published their findings in Nature Communications trumpeted this exciting development which may contribute to solving the plastic waste problem.

A wax worm, or Galleria mellonella. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Researchers investigated the phenomenon and discovered 200 proteins in the worms’ saliva. Of these, two enzymes appear to be the agents which break down polyethylene.

Recycling plastic involves breaking polymer chains, a difficult process which usually requires heat. However, these worm enzymes work at room temperature and bore holes in plastic bags in only hours.

More: Wax Worms Can Break Down Plastic With Their Saliva

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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