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Wax moths can feed on plastic!

Posted by Maria Cristina Chiulli on

Already in 2017 the so-called wax moths (Galleria mellonella), parasites that live in the honeycombs of bees, became famous because an amateur beekeeper but expert Italian biochemist, Federica Bertocchini, has accidentally discovered that they can feed on plastic.
Now a new research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, focuses on how these larvae are able to effectively digest plastic, hoping to learn from them how to develop a solution to pollution. 

Wax moths are equipped with intestinal microbes essential in the biodegradation process of plastic. This process seems to depend on a synergy between the caterpillars and their intestinal bacteria to accelerate the degradation of polyethylene. A species of bacteria in the intestines of these larvae is able to survive on plastic alone for a whole year, but bacteria and caterpillars are more successful when they work together. Basically, the microbiome and the host work in synergy for an effective plastic metabolism. Rather than a single species of bacteria, it is very likely that several species work together to facilitate this process. 

These caterpillars cannot be considered an immediate solution to plastic pollution, there is still much work to be done to understand how these small animals, and the microbes in their digestive tract, work together. Only then will it be possible, if anything, to adapt what we have learned and replicate it on a large scale.
One problem is certainly how to manage the toxic substance that moths expel when fed plastic. Researchers found that caterpillars could survive eating plastic bags for a week and that 60 of them could consume about 30 centimeters during that time. At the same time, however, they were producing an alcohol known as glycol. Since these caterpillars have not yet given us all their secrets to dispose of plastic, we must do everything in our power to reduce its use! (source: Greenme.it)

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