WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Plastic-eating caterpillars have been discovered by researchers in 2017.
- These caterpillars which not only eat plastic but also polyethylene, which could effectively help reduce plastic wastage.
- While effective enough in speeding up the degradation process of plastics, these grubs are still being studied on how they will be used on a larger scale.
In 2017, researchers have discovered that waxworm can eat plastics and polyethylene. Polyethylene, a typical non-biodegradable plastic, is a huge environmental problem right now because it clogs landfills and seas. This led the researchers to postulate that these creatures are likely to help in solving the world’s plastic waste issues.
With further studies, researchers and scientists have found out how the waxworm processes plastics in their stomachs. They now understand that waxworm uses its microbiome, which is the grubs’ gut bacteria, to speed up the degradation of plastics. These findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Tuesday, March 3rd.
Associate Professor and Biology Chairman at Brandon University in Canada, Christophe LeMoine, said that they “found that waxworm caterpillars are endowed with gut microbes that are essential in the plastic biodegradation process. This process seems reliant on a synergy between the caterpillars and their gut bacteria to accelerate polyethylene degradation.”
It is important to note that a lot of animals are believed to have a microbiome. They are important in keeping us, humans, healthy.
According to LeMoine, more studies are needed to be done in understanding how the grubs and the microbes cooperate in its intestinal tract – before it will be adjusted and replicated on a large scale.
“Basically, the microbiome and host work synergistically with one another for effective plastic metabolism. Rather than a single species of bacteria, it is most likely several species working together to facilitate this process,” added LeMoine.
The scientists are also trying to solve the issue of managing the waxworm’s discharge of toxic substances when they are fed plastic. This means that waxworms are not a present solution in handling plastic pollution just yet.
LeMoine said, “While there has been some good progress in figuring out some of the key components, there are still a few more puzzles to solve before this can be effectively used to solve our plastic problem, so it’s probably best to keep reducing plastic waste while this gets all figured out.”