There Might Be Hope For Us Yet: These Bugs Can Eat Plastic

Image: Galleria mellonella caterpillar

It's not news our love of plastics isn't helping the Earth. We produce around 80 million tonnes of the stuff every year, and it takes centuries to decompose.

But what if there was a bug that could eat plastic in less than an hour? This isn't fantasy - scientists have tracked down a caterpillar that usually chows down on the wax in bee hives - but can also digest one of our worst pollutants.

Researchers at Cambridge University conducted experiments that show the Galleria mellonella, a moth caterpillar, can break down the chemical bonds of plastic in a similar way to digesting beeswax.

Image: Polyethylene degradation by ten Galleria mellonella in 30 minutes

Dr Bombelli and Federica Bertocchini are the researchers in question, and hope to reveal more information about exactly why this happens. They suspect the microbes in the caterpillar are the secret to breaking down the plastics, and if the exact chemicals can be discovered a synthetic version may be produced to use in our own waste management systems. The team have patented the discovery for further research.

While we shouldn't go creating more plastic waste just yet, it's heartening to know there may be a solution in the future.

[Current Biology]

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