wax wormImage source, SPL

The worst form of plastic pollution may have been found in the saliva of a worm.

Spanish researchers say they have found chemicals in the wax worm's saliva that break down a tough and durable material.

The plastic degrades as much as years of weathering when exposed to saliva.

They hope the breakthrough will lead to new ways to deal with plastic pollution.

They believe it's the first time that such an effective agent has been found in nature.

Plastic pollution is a major problem across the world.

plasticImage source, Getty Images
Image caption, Polyethylene plastic has a wide variety of uses

Efforts to reduce, recycle and reuse plastic are making progress, but there are few options for the very sturdy PE material.

It is one of the most widely used forms, accounting for 30% of production and used for a wide range of materials, including hard wearing items like pipes, flooring, and bottles.

The plastic is very resistant to oxygen and takes a long time to break down.

Most attempts to degrade it require PE to be pre- treated with heat or UV light.

plasticImage source, Getty Images
Image caption, Plastic pollution is a major problem all over the world

The Spanish team first discovered that wax worms could break down the material, but in this new study they have found that the key elements are in the saliva of the creature.

Within an hour of the plastic being exposed to the saliva of the larvae, they were able to get oxygen into thepolymer.

The Spanish National Research Council is a co-author of a paper on the weathering of polyethylene.

He said that the process that takes such a long time in the environment is the oxidation of plastic.

The saliva from the wax worms is being used by the researchers

wax mothImage source, SPL
Image caption,

These creatures are well-known for attacking honeybees. They are popular with people who like to fish as a bait.

According to the researchers, the destructive abilities of the larvae may explain their capacity for PE degradation.

The scientists think they have found an alternative approach to biological degradation that could lead to new solutions.

Dr Federica Bertocchini, a co-author on the paper from the Spanish National Research Council, said that they thought it could be applied to large plastic waste management facilities.

You could use a home-based kit to degrade your own plastic.

The researchers say that there are still many questions to be answered, including whether the saliva is working on the polymer or on the Additives that are used to strengthen this type of Plastic.

"We want to know why a humble worm has these amazing enzymes, what's the use of them in their daily life, and so on and so forth."

Bigger experiments are what they want to carry out to develop their work.

Dr Bertocchini said that the field of biodegradation focuses onbacteria and fungi.

Let's give it a try now that we have some enzymes that work.

The study has been published.

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  • Plastic pollution
  • Insects
  • Environment