Lancaster-Berks Edition
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed

Waxworm Wonders

Caterpillars Offer Clues to Plastic Cleanup

monticelloSefa Kaya

Waxworms, a type of caterpillar, are vexing to beekeepers because they devour the wax that bees use to build honeycombs. It turns out that they can do the same to plastic. Ongoing worldwide research reveals several types of bacteria found in waxworms that digest some kinds of plastic at rates that vary from weeks to months.

Scientist Federica Bertocchini, at the Spanish National Research Council, mashed up a quantity of the greater wax moth and applied the paste to polyethylene. After half a day, about 13 percent of the plastic had disappeared.

She collaborated with biochemists at the University of Cambridge to analyze this chemical decomposition of the plastic. They discovered that some of the substance is converted into ethylene glycol, a sign that it was genuinely being degraded. The carbon-to-carbon bonds found in polyethylene are also present in the wax that the caterpillars eat.

Susan Selke, director of the Michigan State University School of Packaging, remarks, “The hunt for organisms that can degrade plastics is on. Right now, we don’t have a good solution for dealing with the plastics that are piling up on our planet.”


This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

‘Sink’ Setback

Logging, drought and wildfires may be turning forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America into carbon emitters rather than absorbers.

Clear Gain

Scientists have developed a transparent, luminescent solar concentrator that looks like clear glass that could potentially supply two-fifths of U.S. energy needs.

Top Polluters

New research shows that a 100 fossil-fuel producers globally are responsible for 71 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions during the last 30 years.

Add your comment: