Plastic waste has been one of the most pressing concerns in the past years. Despite all the efforts to save the environment, sometimes it feels like we're fighting a loosing battle, right? Well, these caterpillars are giving us renewed hopes!
"We found that waxworm caterpillars are endowed with gut microbes that are essential in the plastic biodegradation process, " said Christophe LeMoine, an associate professor and chair of biology at Brandon University in Canada.
"This process seems reliant on a synergy between the caterpillars and their gut bacteria to accelerate polyethylene degradation."
Its plastic-eating skills were discovered accidentally when an amateur beekeeper in Spain plucked some of the pests from her beehives and put them in a plastic bag. The worms eventually ate little holes in the bag, chewing through the plastic at an alarming rate.
Federica Bertocchini, the beekeeper, who also happened to be a scientist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, then put together a study to see just how good the little grubs were at breaking down plastic. The team found the wax worms broke down polyethylene plastic bags faster than other methods.
LeMoine said the waxworms were not an immediate solution to plastic pollution, with still more work to be done to understand how the caterpillars and the microbes in their digestive tract work together before it can be adapted and replicated on a large scale.
While there's still a lot of research that needs to be done, this discovery is a good step for us!
Photo by Harald Grove