Scientists Discovered Plastic-Eating Worms That Could Save The Environment

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The world is dramatically affected by plastic pollution, and if we don’t take the needed measures as soon as possible, Earth will suffer and face even more severe consequences.

Scientists Discovered Plastic-Eating Worms That Could Save The Environment

The world is dramatically affected by plastic pollution, and if we don’t take the needed measures as soon as possible, Earth will suffer and face even more severe consequences.


Since the 1950s, about 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced. Of all the plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled, 12 percent has been burned while the rest has ended up in landfills.


Annually, however, 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans, so it’s estimated that there are five trillion pieces of plastic.


On the other hand, first-world countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada export plastic waste to countries in Africa and Asia, giving the plastic problem away to often more impoverished communities.


While countries like Costa Rica have banned single-use plastics, some cities, like Washington and Seattle, have banned the use of single-use straws, and zero-waste grocery stores are now opening across the world, the rest of us have to catch up and follow suit, since we have a long way to go before we manage to solve the plastic epidemic.


Furthermore, scientists have accidentally discovered another viable solution to this problem – a worm that can eat its way through the plastic. It’s called a waxworm, and it is a member of the caterpillar family.


It parasitizes bee colonies and eats wax. It can be purchased for terrarium pets, such as lizards, to eat. The worm is useful in animal research as well as it can replace mammals in several experiments.


When professor and beekeeper Federica Bertocchini removed an infestation from one of her hives and put them in a plastic bag, the worms just ate their way out.


Therefore, together with scientists Paolo Bombelli and Christopher J. Howe, Bertocchini decided to conduct further research using a hundreds of worms.


They put them in various shopping bags, and approximately 40 minutes later, they noticed holes. After twelve hours, the plastic had decreased by 92 mg.


To make sure that the worms affect the plastic, and were not merely chewing the plastic into smaller pieces, they mashed some of them up and smeared the grub paste on plastic bags. The holes appeared again.


The voracious appetite for plastic could put the worms to good use. The average person annually uses over 200 plastic bags that can take from 100 to 400 years to degrade in landfill sites.


They suspect the plastic-eating worms have a particular enzyme that helps them digest plastic. Besides, they already eat wax, that is a “natural plastic.”


The grubs seem to breakdown polyethylene with the same enzymes they use for eating beeswax.


Paolo Bombelli, a biochemist at Cambridge, said that the finding could lead to a solution to the plastic waste mounting up in oceans, waterways, and landfills. With further research, the scientists are hopinh to identify the enzymes that the waxworms produce when they go to work on a bag, and the genes may then be put into bacteria, such as E Coli, or into marine organisms called phytoplankton, and used to degrade plastics in the wild.


Since there are strict regulations around the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, one another way to reduce plastic waste would be to breed large numbers of the waxworms and let them loose on waste. However, that’ll only be viable in case the worms have an endless appetite for plastic shopping bags.


Bombelli said they want to investigate if they are munching the plastic to use as a food, or only because they want to escape. If they want to escape, they are going to get fed up very soon, but if they are munching it to use as an energy source, the discovery would be promising.


Although more research is needed to investigate the potential of those worms, we are left to hope that they may contribute to saving our planet from plastic pollution.


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Thinking Humanity: Scientists Discovered Plastic-Eating Worms That Could Save The Environment
Scientists Discovered Plastic-Eating Worms That Could Save The Environment
The world is dramatically affected by plastic pollution, and if we don’t take the needed measures as soon as possible, Earth will suffer and face even more severe consequences.
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