Larvae of moths that eat plsastic. Two substances found in the water of waxworms – the larvae of moths that eat the wax made by bees to build honey – quickly break down common types of plastic, researchers said on Tuesday, in a breakthrough can in the world fight against plastic pollution.
The researchers said that the two enzymes found in water caterpillars quickly and indoors degrade polyethylene, the most popular plastic in the world and a contributing factor in environmental problems from water to n ‘high mountain. The study builds on the 2017 findings by researchers that waxworms can degrade polyethylene, although at the time it was not clear how these insects did it. The answer is enzymes – substances produced by living organisms that cause biochemical reactions. For plastic to break down, oxygen must enter the polymer – or plastic molecule – in an important first step called oxidation. The researchers found that the enzymes completed this step in a few hours without the need for prior treatment such as applying light or radiation. This “changes the nature of plastic biodegradation,” said biologist Federica Bertocchini of the National Research Council (CSIC) of Spain, who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The plastic is made of polymers that are designed to be hard to break and have additives that make it more durable, which means it can last for years, decades or centuries. “The same qualities that make plastic so unique and useful that it creates one of the most important issues of this century,” said Bertocchini.
“Plastics last a long time in the environment. It eventually breaks down into smaller particles, thus becoming a source of micro and nano plastic particles. These plastics have been found everywhere from Antarctica to rainwater and rivers, which not only cause obvious environmental problems, but are a growing problem for human health,” added Bertocchini. Polyethylene, first created in 1933, is cheap, durable, and does not interact with food, making it useful for food packaging and food packaging, among other applications.
Waxworms are the larvae of the wax moth, a species called Galleria mellonella. Pests are taken from beekeepers, caterpillars feed on beeswax, pollen and honey, and sometimes eat animal larvae.
The idea would be to synthetically produce worm salivary enzymes, which the researchers managed to do, to break down plastic waste. Bertocchini said there is a reduction in the use of billions of waxworms to do the work, including the generation of carbon dioxide as they produce polyethylene.
“In our case, enzymes oxidize plastic, breaking them down into small particles. This shows other conditions for the processing of plastic waste in which the plastic can be broken down under controlled conditions, limiting or even completely eliminating the release of microplastics, “says the author of the study Clemente Fernandez said Arias, a biologist and mathematician at CSIC.
A foundation associated with the German plastics engineering company Röchling helped support the research. Bertocchini is one of the two directors of a Madrid-based company called Plasticentropy that is working to commercialize the use of enzymes to break down plastic waste.
The pursuit of plastic degradation through biological means, or biodegradation, has primarily focused on microorganisms. A small number of microorganisms have been found to break down the plastic, but it slows down and requires only pre-treatment, making it more effective.
Plastic consumption has exploded around the world over the past three decades, with hundreds of millions of tonnes ending up wasted each year and less than 10% being recycled. The United Nations in March approved a historic agreement to create the first global agreement on plastic pollution after talks in Nairobi, with the goal of completing a legally binding agreement by 2024.
Data: October 4th 2022
Place: Washington (US)
Title: Larvae of moths that eat plsastic