Could This Bug Solve Our Plastic Waste Problem?

By Mike Wehner on Thursday May 18th, 2017

Mother Nature Throws Us A Softball

Mother Earth is one seriously gracious host. Humanity has done little else to the planet that produced us than completely destroy it at every turn. We dump toxic oil into oceans, irreversibly alter the climate, drive species into extinction, and pile heaps of trash everywhere we can find space for it. Nature owes us nothing, but it still finds a way to help us save our own hides on a regular basis. The latest example? How about a caterpillar that eats and breaks down the one thing humans have created that pollutes for centuries before decomposing on its own: plastic.

400-1,000 years to decomposeIt’s believed that plastic takes 400-1,000 years to decompose…

Plastic is everywhere, and as far as the Earth is concerned, it absolutely sucks. Scientists believe it can take anywhere from 400 to 1,000 years for common disposable plastic products like bags, bottles, and containers to break down after being thrown into landfill — or flying out of your car window and into a ditch. That’s a long, long time, and it makes plastic a particularly bad pollutant. Now, researchers believe they’ve stumbled upon a natural plastic decomposition tool that has been crawling around right under our feet, in the form of Galleria mellonella, the greater wax moth.

The greater wax moth larvaeThe greater wax moth larvae has the ability to digest plastic.

Introducing The Miracle Moth

Scientists from Cambridge University just discovered that the moth’s larva can actually eat and break down plastic in a similar way to beeswax, which the moth regularly consumes. Its digestive system breaks up the chemical bonds of polyethylene, which makes these insects a powerful tool against the seemingly unending flood of plastic waste around the globe.

Unfortunately, solving the problems of plastic pollution isn’t as simple as dumping a bunch of moth larva into landfills; scientists first have to fully study and detail the unique process in the bug’s gut that is giving it this remarkable power. Once researchers know exactly how the moth is performing its trick, they could apply that knowledge to large-scale efforts to biodegrade junk plastic in places where it causes the most problems, such as the ocean and other pollution hot-spots.

Words By Mike Wehner

Originally posted on BGR, Tech and entertainment news, reviews, opinions and insights.



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2 Responses to Could This Bug Solve Our Plastic Waste Problem?

  1. Sure. Let’s find ways to deal with all the plastic polluting the Earth. But, more importantly, we drastically need to STOP PRODUCING PLASTICS! Let’s get on with substitutes for plastic that are biodegradable! In the meantime, everyone needs to wean themselves from using plastic products!

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