More than trillions of plastic bags are used all around the world annually which are made up of polyethylene – one of the stout plastic and conventionally unbreakable. Mere coincidence, scientists from the University of Cambridge have found these plastics are breakable by the larvae of wax worms.
Scientist Federica Bertocchini and Christopher Howe have found that, rather than physical breakdown, the plastic degrades chemically, due to the interaction between plastic and worms to transform into ethylene glycol, commonly used in antifreeze.
The breaking of carbon bond which has been created between the beehives and the polyethylene could be the primary reason for this breakdown. The gut bacteria in the larvae of the Indian meal moth Plodia interpunctella can break polyethylene at a steady pace. As per the findings, wax, classified as a polymer, has the chemical structure that wax consists of similar compounds to that of polyethylene.
The traits of the investigation involve the process by which the polyethylene is believed to be broken, physically. The eggs of the wax moth are laid inside the beehives. The worms hatch and grow on beeswax, which is composed of a highly diverse mixture of lipid compounds. However, scientists are yet to discover chemical involvement of the rapid breakdown.
Bertocchini also believes "the molecular isolation resulting in large production of it in the lab in vitro and then distributing the molecules in large scale could be the probable reason".
The plastic still degraded. "So it had to be something chemical that was going on and not a physical breakdown," says Christopher Howe of the University of Cambridge.
The experiment on the beeswax was carried on by placing some bee wax on the polyethylene. It was found that there were multiple holes. Further experimentation involved the beeswax been crushed and placed on polyethylene. They anticipated different results. Perhaps, the results were indistinguishable. To narrow down, the chemical interaction between plastic and beeswax could help in degrading the plastic which has been prone to both environment and mankind. Biodegradation of plastic could contribute hugely to the environmental factor.
Although, it has unavoidable impacts on reducing waste materials, yet there is a requirement to find other possible remedies to reduce plastic uses. Indeed, it was discovered that the worms could detriment plastic within an hour or less. To garner more fruitful information regarding this aspect, different biomedical institutions and biotechnological labs are giving their utmost. Technological evolution and scientific progression hope to find the ultimate solution to mitigate waste materials in a biodegradable manner which would be boon to human life.