The saliva of wax worms has been found to contain genes that break down plastic bags in a matter of seconds.
The first reported break down of polyethylene within hours at room temperature could lead to cost effective ways of recycling the plastic.
The discovery was made after a scientist, an amateur beekeeper, cleaned out a hive and found that the bees were eating holes in a plastic bag. According to the study, insect saliva may be a depository of degrading enzymes which could change the way we clean up pollution.
A significant part of worldwide plastic pollution is caused by the use of polyethylene in bags and other packaging. The only way to recycle at scale is using mechanical processes.
The need for virgin plastic made from oil could be avoided with the help of chemical breakdown. The researchers said that the enzymes can be synthesised and can be used to break the plastic chain. That usually requires a lot of heating, but it works at normal temperatures and neutral pH.
Federica Bertocchini, a researcher at the Biological Research Centre in Madrid, said that she began cleaning her bees after they were plagued with wax worms. The beginning of the story was when I noticed a lot of holes after a while.
The researchers say that it is early days. A lot of research is needed to come up with a new strategy to deal with plastic waste. The scientists said it might be possible to have kits in homes that would allow people to recycle plastic bags into useful products. The plastic-eating potential of insects is being investigated by other scientists.
bacteria in oceans and soils across the globe are evolving to eat plastic Ten different types of plastic could be degraded by 30,000 different enzymes.
The discovery of a bug in a waste dump in Japan inspired the creation of a super-enzyme that breaks down plastic drink bottles. A bug from a waste dump can eat polyurethane, a plastic that is widely used but rarely recycled, while anidase that breaks down PET has been produced frombacteria in leaf compost.
The planet is polluted from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest ocean. Reducing the amount of plastic used is important, as is the proper collection and treatment of waste, and full recycling.
Two of the two that had the plastic-eating effect were narrowed down by the research. The study suggests insect saliva could be a depository of degrading enzymes which could change the field of bioremediation.
The wax worm may have evolved the enzymes because they feed on beeswax. There is a chance that the enzymes break down the toxic chemicals that plants produce as a defence and which are similar to some of the chemicals used in the plastic industry.
Prof Pickford is the director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Pompey. The reaction occurs within a few hours at room temperature and may be a way to make use of the waste.
A study published on Tuesday in the journal Chem shows that a mirror-image version of a plastic-degrading enzyme is more resistant to breaking down itself. Pickford said that the high cost of synthesising mirror-image enzymes was likely to outweigh any benefit from an enhanced half-life.