Saturday 6 May 2017

Plastic Eating Wax Worms Could Solve Our Pollution Problem

A planet saving caterpillar with hunger for ‘plastic’ is discovered

Our planet is becoming a dumpster with the use of plastic in varied forms and the worst thing about it is that it isn’t degradable. However, researchers have found a new kind of caterpillar which possesses the capability to eat away the bio-degradable plastic shopping bags. This caterpillar was actually bred to be used as fishing bait but researchers has found this unique plastic breaking ability during their study. These caterpillars are also referred as wax form because they used by the beekeepers to lay eggs inside the hive and they live rest of their lives as parasites on the beeswax. Their unique environment friendly ability was unearthed by a researcher when he was indulged in removing the parasites from the honeycombs.

They carried out a study in the UK supermarket where about 100 worms were exposed to a plastic bag. Within 40 minutes researchers started looking a tiny holes appearing on the bag and in 12 hours they 92 gram worth reduction in the total mass of the plastic bag. It is worth noting that the degradation rate was way faster than ever before seen in the natural environment.

Is it really happening?

Science is not just about believing the things we see but also proving that it is happening in the right fashion. Scientists have done a unique testing to confirm whether the plastic is being broken down by the environment friendly caterpillar or they are simply chomping on it. Scientists have mashed up some of the worms and smeared them on the polythene bags and the results were positive. Later on they have found that the unique plastic degrading skills shown by the worms are very much related to their ability to digest the beeswax. It is found that the complete digesting process of the beeswax as well polyethylene is almost similar as it requires the breaking of the similar types of chemical bonds.

The future application of these new caterpillars

One of the lead researchers named Federica Bertocchini has clarified that the polymer used in plastic is also a kind of wax which can be called natural plastic. Wax chemical structure is not very different from the polyethylene. During the research, it was found that the caterpillar happens to secrete a unique chemical which help in breaking the chemical bond present in the plastic. Now the next job I front of the researchers is to identify the molecular processes involved in this reaction and get the hold of the enzyme which is responsible for it.

This research will certainly help us in saving our continuously degrading environment as well will be able to break the plastic waste on a large scale. It should be noted that low-density polyethylene and plastic bags takes as much as 100 years to decompose completely while the harder and tougher plastic variants can last for centuries. Very soon we will be able to lessen the burden of plastic on the nature by introducing the chemical or even the caterpillar in breaking down the plastic wastes.

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