Worms eating polyethylene and escaping from a plastic bag CREDIT: César Hernández & Ainhoa Goñi
One of the biggest issues in our current society is the amount of plastic that we produce and waste every year. In 2015 Science magazine published a study in which stating that 8 tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year. I can imagine that the number has probably increased since then. Plastic is not biodegradable and will remain on the planet for many centuries, contaminating the land and ocean with its presence and destroying the ozone layer with the release of methane gas during decomposition.
But it’s not everything is bad news, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has discovered recently that the wax worm (Galleria mellonella) can eat and degrade polyethylene. This type of worms eat wax and honey from the honeycombs of bees and the polyethylene has a similar molecular structure to wax and that why the worms can biodegrade this type of plastic. The polyethylene is one of the most chemical resistant and cheapest plastics available hence its extensive use in food packaging, grocery bags, plastic tableware & pipelines, resulting in the most produced and disposable plastic in the world. So this discovery bring new light and hope to a desperate situation!
The next step would be to isolate the molecule or enzyme produced by the worms to degrade the plastic. Once isolated the scientists will have to find a way to mass produce and deploy it on a large scale. Work is underway to find the solution as soon as possible. This discovery is great news for all of us and could be the future for solving one of the biggest environmental problems future generations will face! Once again mother nature is providing us with a solution to save the planet and offering us another chance to do better!