Plastic pollution is a huge problem and won’t go away any time soon, but researchers are opening up new possibilities around how to solve it,media New Atlas reported. Scientists at Brandon University in Canada have recently made exciting discoveries about mechanisms that make common caterpillars survive on a plastic diet.
In recent years, scientists have discovered many creatures that can “eat” ordinary plastics. These include engineering enzymes, powderworms that have an appetite for polystyrene foams, and a bacterium that breaks down PET plastics in a relatively short period of time. Wax worms are another exciting example. These are the caterpillar larvae of wax, which acts as destructive parasites in beehives by feeding on beeswax. But earlier studies have found that these organisms are also interested in plastics that can be chewed, digested and converted into ethylene glycol.
Researchers at Brandon University’s Department of Biology have been studying the potential mechanisms for this unique behavior. Their work suggests that wax worms’ ability to “swallow” plastics is linked to some of their gut bacteria, which they have managed to isolate and prove that they actually thrive in a plastic diet.
In the team’s experiment, wax worms survived only on polyethylene diets, shopping bags, disposable bottle caps, soda bottles and other plasticused items used in everyday items. The creatures have such an appetite for it that 60 of them can devour more than 30 square centimeters of plastic bags in less than a week.
One of the key factors, the team found, was the type of bacteria found in the guts of the wax worms that degrade polyethylene. These bacteria can survive for more than a year and rely on plastic for nutrition alone. Wax worms can degrade plastics on their own, and separated bacteria can degrade plastics, but they can do better when working in series.
Dr LeMoine said: “Plastic bacteria are known, but when isolated they degrade plastics at very slow speeds. Similarly, when we treat caterpillars with antibiotics to reduce their gut bacteria, they do not degrade plastics easily. As a result, there appears to be synergy between bacteria and their wax host, which can accelerate plastic degradation. “
When scientists fed wax worms on a 100% plastic diet, they actually increased the microbes in their guts. As a result, they call them “mass” and will continue to study the relationship between waxworms and their gut bacteria in order to understand how they maximize their ability to degrade plastic waste.
“It sounds great to eat our plastic waste and turn it into an alcohol wax bug. Study author Dr. Bryan Cassone said. “The problem with plastic contamination is too big to simply throw the wax worm at it. But if we can better understand the synergy between bacteria and wax worms and what conditions will cause the bacteria to flourish, we may be able to use this information to design better tools to eliminate plastics and microplastics in the environment. “
The team’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.