An Italian researcher has discovered that the wax worm is able to eat the plastic, a finding that could be key to combat the contamination caused by this material, said Monday the Spanish scientific institution where it works.Federica Bertocchini explained That the idea is to continue studying these worms «to identify the molecule» that allows them to eat polyethylene, and that could be an enzyme or a protein.
Once the molecule is isolated, it could be produced in vitro «on an industrial scale» to destroy a resistant and contaminating material that takes almost 100 years to decompose completely, he added.
The researcher works in Santander (northern Spain) in a center under the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), and according to the statement of this public body, made its finding by chance.
Bertocchini, a beekeeper, discovered one day that the honeycombs he had in his house were full of these worms, which feed on the honey and wax that bees produce.
He then decided to remove them and put them in a plastic bag, but soon realized that the worms had escaped from it, despite having closed well.
«The worm you put in a bag, and in 15 or 20 minutes can make a hole,» said the scientist, who works at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria.
From there he decided to investigate with his colleagues Paolo Bombelli, Italian, and Chris Howe, British, of the University of Cambridge. The paper was published Monday in Current Biology.
According to the scientist explained, three years ago it was discovered that the moth of the dried fruit or Indian moth of the flour (Plodia interpunctella) is also able to digest the plastic, but at a much slower rate, about two weeks.
Polyethylene is the most used material in the manufacture of plastic bags, and of which around 80 million tonnes are produced globally every year, says the CSIC.