Scientists have found that a strange species of worm has an amazing ability that they weren't aware of before.
It could be a truly groundbreaking discovery with massive implications for our own planet. Scientists have discovered that the wax worm, a common insect, can chew through a common plastic called polyethylene and break it down into compounds, perhaps providing a new option for recycling plastics with only about 10 percent recycled every year.
All those unrecycled plastics end up in landfills and the ocean, so if we were able to deploy millions of these bugs to eat them up, it could have huge implications for the future of our planet. The paper, published in the journal Current Biology, claims that wax worms can chew large holes in a plastic shopping bag within 40 minutes. Considering we use a trillion plastic bags each year, that’s a big deal.
Scientists weren’t trying to discover this. They just happened to notice that plastic bags containing wax worms mysteriously developed holes, and decided to look a little deeper. As it turns out, while the insects don’t normally eat plastic, wax moths lay eggs on beehives and the worms eat beeswax, which is similar to plastic.
“A research scientist at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Federica Bertocchini, has discovered that wax worms (Galleria mellonella), which usually feed on honey and wax from the honeycombs of bees, are capable of degrading plastic,” reads a statement from the Spanish National Research Council. “This worm is capable of biodegrading polyethylene, one of the toughest plastic materials that exists, and which is used to make shopping bags and food packaging, amongst other things. The discovery has been patented by the research scientists. The CSIC scientist worked on this research with Paolo Bombelli and Chris Howe from the University of Cambridge. The paper will be published in the next issue of Current Biology.”