Wax worms on honeycomb.
Scientists make huge breakthrough with wax worm enzymes
A worm’s saliva could be used to tackle plastic pollution, according to a new study.
Researchers in Spain discovered that chemicals within the wax worm’s saliva can break down polyethylene, a commonly used plastic. It is designed to be hard wearing, which means it can take years to degrade.
Wax worms are the larvae of the wax moth and are considered to be pests by beekeepers because they feed on the wax that bees use to build honeycombs.
Enzymes within the wax worm’s saliva break down this wax and the research found that it can attack plastic in the same way.
The amount of polyethylene broken down by the saliva in one hour was equal to several years of degradation under the elements.
The study, which was published in Nature Communications, found that the saliva can degrade the polyethylene without any need for pre-treating, such as exposing it to radiation or heat.
Molecular biologist Federica Bertocchini of the Spanish National Research Council led the study and she said that the team have not only identified these enzymes, but they have also managed to produce them synthetically.
She said this discovery was “changing the paradigm of plastic biodegradation”.