The Very Hungry Caterpillar

A recent publication out of the University of Cambridge reports the ability for wax worms (larvae of the moth Galleria mellonella) to digest polyethylene. There are a handful of previously documented instances of bacteria, viruses, and fungi having the ability to degrade plastic, but whatever is in the larvae is breaking down PE at a much faster rate. f5aac6469d9236a1c1c2987ce9d82892_1000-images-about-very-hungry-the-very-hungry-caterpillar-clipart_1600-1236

I think the cool part is that these larvae break down polyethylene into ethylene glycol (according to the paper, this is the first time this type of breakdown has been documented). Ethylene glycol (aka: antifreeze) is mildly toxic upon ingestion, but does not bioaccumulate, and breaks down rapidly in the environment into carbon dioxide and water, potentially giving us a way to take plastic, and break it down into its most basic building blocks.

As of yet, what enzymes, proteins or chemicals are involved with the larvae ability to digest PE is unknown. But the potential is enormous. Certainly something to be watched.

 

Read the Washington Post article here

Find the full scientific publication here

 

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