Found a way to quickly recycle plastic: it only takes a couple of hours and a handful of worms
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Research has shown that there is a relatively simple and very effective way to permanently get rid of polyethylene.
For decades, scientists have been looking for ways to save the planet from the invasion of plastic, which takes tens or even hundreds of years to completely decompose. Curiously, a third of all the plastic that pollutes the Earth comes from plastic bags and other packaging, and it seems that scientists have managed to find a way to recycle at least this part of the plastic, writes The Guardian.
The answer to the question of how to speed up the process of decomposition of plastic bags came by itself. Federica Bertocchini from the Center for Biological Research in Madrid is also a hobby beekeeper. At some point, she noticed that her hives were infected with wax worms, and therefore the scientist began to clean them, and collect the moth larvae in a plastic bag. Later, the scientist noticed that the package in which she collected the wax worms was all “eaten”.
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The scientist became interested in such a curious effect and continued to study. It turned out that the moth larvae did not just chew on the plastic, but chemically acted on it, causing it to disintegrate. Subsequent experiments have shown that the saliva of wax moth larvae contains enzymes that are capable of utilizing polyethylene literally in hours.
Note that today there is the only large-scale plastic processing that requires high temperatures and is not able to decompose it, but only creates lower cost products. However, the discovery of an enzyme in the saliva of a wax worm gives the world hope for getting rid of at least a third of all plastic on Earth.
Scientists have identified 200 different proteins in waxworm saliva. Fortunately, they were able to narrow down the list to just two enzymes that are responsible for the degradation of polyethylene.
Federica Bertocchini and her colleagues believe that they can easily synthesize waxworm enzymes in the laboratory. In the future, this will make it possible to overcome the most problematic place in the decomposition of plastic – the rupture of polymer chains. This usually requires high temperatures, but the worms' enzymes work at room temperature, in water, and at neutral pH.
This finding has prompted other scientists to start large-scale insect research – some are already studying beetles and butterfly larvae to to find out who else is capable of eating plastic.
There will still be a lot of different studies to commercialize the enzyme, but it is already clear that in the future the world will be able to change its strategy in the fight against plastic pollution on the Earth. And it promises to be more successful.