stubborn plastic may have finally met its match: the hungry wax worm - plastic film packaging
This is a caterpillar. it tastes great in plastic.
Scientists have found that the larvae of wax moths can easily chew through a common plastic called polyethylene, turning it into a useful compound found in a variety of consumer goods.
This week's findings, published in the journal Contemporary Biology, reveal an unlikely ally in the fight to reduce and reuse the massive amount of plastic waste that humans produce each year.
Plastic made of oil is a product of fossil fuels.
About 92% of them are divided into two categories: polyethylene and polypropylene.
Polyethylene is widely used for packaging, according to the study authors, so it consists of about two parts
Five times the demand for plastic products.
Some plastics are recycled, but not very recycled. out of 33.
25 million tons of plastic were produced in 2014, only 9.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 5% of the U.
An additional 15% of energy consumption, this is not the cleanest process, the remaining 75.
5% was finally piled up.
"New Solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed," the study authors wrote . ".
Christopher J. , co-author of the study, said the problem is that this plastic is hard to break down.
Hao, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge, England.
The polyethylene molecule has a straight skeleton consisting of connected carbon atoms that have very stable bonds.
This means that plastic is not easily biodegradable in landfill sites, and it can form garbage blocks in the ocean, posing a fatal threat to marine wildlife.
Scientists have encountered mild examples of polyethylene biodegradable, but progress has been slow.
The researchers were given a liquid culture of simple green mold to break down some polyethylene-
But it took three months.
It took four to seven months for a bacteria called noka.
Both compounds appear to produce ethylene glycol, a compound used in a variety of products including brake fluid, paint, plastic and even cosmetics.
This new study of the wax moth Galleria mellonella has changed this status.
Howe said the discovery was a pleasant accident: lead author Federica bentosini, a developmental biologist at the Institute of Biomedical and biotechnology in Cantabria, Spain, he said
Bertocchini notes that if the honeycomb material containing moth larvae is wrapped in plastic bags, the caterpillar appears to degrade tough plastic.
Can these little caterpillars really do something that few people know about?
To find out, the researchers set loose wax worms on polyethylene film.
They looked at the hole just 40 minutes later.
At an estimated rate of about 2.
Worm 2 holes per hour.
When the researchers put about 100 wax moth larvae on a commercial shopping bag, they ate a total of 92 mg in about 12 hours.
Nevertheless, these wax worms may simply chew the material instead of digesting it into simpler products.
So scientists use some worms to make mud and apply the separated cells to the polyethylene film.
14 hours later, the researchers found that 13% of the polyethylene mass had been lost --
Degradation rate of 0.
23 per mg per square centimeter
When the researchers check the remaining mud
Coated plastic film, they found a sign that oh-so-
Useful compounds, ethylene glycol-
This suggests that the cells of the Caterpillar did break the plastic.
How did the wax worm manage such a difficult feat and do it at such an amazing speed?
All this is due to the natural diet of the Caterpillar, which is home to the hive.
"It's probably because the beeswax is chemically similar to plastic," Howe said . ".
"Given the chemical similarity, the larvae have evolved to be able to break down the beeswax and also the plastic.
"Beeswax is made up of a wide variety of compounds, including chains, olefin, fatty acids, and Ester.
Many of these compounds include those carbon-carbon bonds —
This may mean that the wax moth has the talent to break down the wax moth.
So far, scientists are not sure whether this ability is due to wax moth larvae or because of microorganisms in their intestines.
A study by another group earlier found that two bacterial strains extracted from the intestines of mealmoth, India, could break down plastic in a few weeks (
Although the author did not report to see the production of any ethylene glycol).
Finding out which animals are responsible is one of the next steps in this study, Howe said.
"In the long run, we hope to use this as the basis for the decomposition of waste polyethylene --
But there are still many obstacles to overcome in expanding the process, "he said.
"We may be trying to find this gene (s)for the enzyme(s)
This is responsible and uses genes in the biotechnology process to make a large number of enzymes, rather than growing a large number of caterpillars. "amina. khan@latimes.
ComFollow @ aminawrite get more science news on Twitter and "like" the Los Angeles Times Science and Health on Facebook.
"We need to be here": Thousands marched in downtown Los AngelesA.