Cambridge University researchers have come across with a discovery that can change the face of this planet.
They have found that a moth's larvae, which is known for eating the wax from of bee hives, can also degrade plastic and munch it. They have conducted experiments which showed that this insect is capable of breaking down the chemical bonds of plastic in a way which is strikingly similar to that of digestion of bee wax.
Moths make up for a good sale as their larvae are sold as snacks for carp and catfish, chub. These worms live on beeswax in the wild which makes them a scourge for the beekeepers across Europe.
The discovery was an accident. A Spanish beekeeper and researcher Federica Bertochhini found that old beehives were infested with waxworms. These insects are kept as a pet by those who have bees. She observed that the hives were chewed by the larvae before the larvae eventually hatched into moths.
"In cleaning the beehives, I put the worms in a plastic bag, and after a short while they were all around and the plastic bag was full of holes," said Bertocchini, who works at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria. "Very few organisms are known to break down plastic, and when I realised the import of this accidental find. We started moving right away," she said.
She reached out to researchers at the Cambridge University who study biodegradation of the plastic. They were surprised to find that "the waxworms are capable of breaking down polyethene". Polyethene accounts for almost 40 percent of the overall demand for the plastic and hence is the most prevalent one in the world.
"The caterpillar will be the starting point. We need to understand the details under which this process operates. We hope to provide the technical solution for minimising the problem of plastic waste," said, Dr Paolo Bombelli, a researcher on this study and biochemist at the University of Cambridge.
This voracious appetite for plastic by worms can be used for a good purpose, said the scientists. "Each year, the average person uses more than 200 plastic bags which can take between 100 and 400 years to degrade in landfill sites."
Researchers want to work quickly on the process of finding out the secrets of chemicals that are leading to degradation of plastic. According to the researchers, the microbes in the caterpillar and the caterpillar itself might have an important role in the breakdown of plastic.
If researchers and scientists can break down the chemical process and identify the resources then it could lead to a humongous achievement in managing plastic waste that is ruining the environment and causing several troubles.
"We are planning to implement this finding into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste, working towards a solution to save our oceans, rivers, and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation. However, we should not feel justified in dumping polyethene deliberately in our environment just because we now know how to bio-degrade it," said Dr Bertocchini.