Scientists might have stumbled upon an unexpected way to solve pollution from plastics. A caterpillar bred to be fishing bait is apparently able to biodegrade polyethylene – a commonly used plastic found in shopping bags. With people using around a trillion plastic bags every year, and with up to 40% of them ending up in landfills, this could be a very significant discovery.
The wax worm caterpillar that eats plastic is the larvae of the common insect Galleria mellonella, aka greater wax moth.
The team working on the study, published in the journal Current Biology, included Federica Bertocchini from the Spanish Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, and biochemists Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe from the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The discovery was made by sheer chance when Bertocchini, who is an amateur beekeeper, removed the worms living in a beehive as parasites – a common problem across Europe. She collected them in a plastic bag and soon noticed holes throughout the bag. The worms ate their way out!
This prompted a timed experiment by her team, who placed about a hundred such worms in a plastic bag from a UK supermarket. They realized that the holes…