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Current Affairs

Plastic eating caterpillar

Date: 07 March 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

A small waxworm could be useful in our fight against plastic waste, one of the main environmental problems of the modern era.

 

Background

Humans are addicted to plastic, a material that we can find almost everywhere but that is also very hard to get rid of. About eight million tons of it ends up in the oceans every year.

 

Details

  • Researchers from the UK and Spain discovered that a species of caterpillar was capable of tearing apart polyethylene, one of the most common types of plastic. The waxworm could digest it and then produce ethylene glycol as a by-product.

  • Other organisms could also do this but not as fast, which made this inconspicuous creature particularly interesting.

  • The discovery opened the door to a new way of dealing with plastic pollution, but more research was needed to understand the internal mechanism of the caterpillar.

  • Another group of researchers isolated the bacteria in the stomach of the waxworm and fed them just with plastic for a full year. This helped the researchers to identify the microorganisms that are involved in the process of breaking down the plastic, which could lead to creating a technology to eliminate plastic permanently.

  • The caterpillars represent an important breakthrough and help deal with plastics, especially those that are hard to recycle.