Sometimes it’s nice to hear a story about something considered to be a complete pain in the arse actually having a practical purpose to its existence (besides being fishing bait, that is). Take the lowly wax worm, for example. The bane of beekeepers across Europe, this half-inch slug feasts on the wax of beehives causing severe damage as it noshes away. Beeswax is a polymer, or as one scientist calls it a ‘natural plastic’. An accidental discovery has lead researchers to believe wax worms can ingest polyethylene commonly found in the 200-plus plastic bags each one us goes through every year.
Did you know?
- Wax worms are the caterpillar larvae of the wax moth.
- The wax moth will lay its eggs in a beehive, where the infestation of larvae eat the beeswax.
- Federica Bertocchini, a research scientist and amateur beekeeper, had wax worms in one of her hives. When she cleaned out the hive she placed the wax worms in a sealed plastic bag. An hour later she came back to find the worms had eaten their way out.
- Beeswax shares the same chemical composition as polyethylene, which is found in plastic bags, wraps, containers and bottles.
- Based on that accidental discovery, Bertocchini and a group of her fellow scientists at the Spanish National Research Council began studying if the wax worms were actually eating the polyethylene or just chewing through it.
- A few worms ground into a paste were then spread onto a bag. The paste caused the bag to degrade.
- Scientists are still not sure if the wax worm digests the polyethylene naturally with a special enzyme or molecule, or if it might be a bacteria in its stomach that does it.
- Researchers are hoping to isolate what it is the wax worm uses to degrade the plastic and produce it on an industrial, large-scale level.
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- The very hungry caterpillar: these plastic-eating worms could solve our pollution problem
- Plastic-eating worms could help wage war on plastic
- Plastic-eating wax worm ‘extremely exciting’ for global pollution crisis
- This Bug Can Eat Plastic. But Can It Clean Up Our Mess?