Did you known that wax worms have some powerful saliva. While tending to her amateur beehives, a scientist noticed something strange. She came across a bunch of wax worms who live in the beehives and feast on the wax combs. She removed the little worms and placed them in a plastic trash bag. However, things got quite interesting.
Strangely, the bag was now full of holes. Dr. Federica Bertocchini from the Biological Research Centre in Madrid recalls, “We found it wasn’t only chewing, it was chemical breakdown, so that was the beginning of the story.”
As it turns out, these little worms have powerful enzymes in their saliva which can rapidly degrade polyethylene. While investigating this phenomenon, researchers discovered 200 proteins in the worms' saliva, two of them being the agents which breaks down plastic.
Researchers trumpeted this exciting discovery, as this may contribute to solving the plastic waste problem. The whole process of recycling plastic involves breaking down the polymer chains. However, recycling plastic is a difficult process which usually requires heat. However, these worm enzymes work at room temperature and bore holes in plastic bags in only hours. “This study suggests insect saliva might be a depository of degrading enzymes which could revolutionise the bioremediation field,” the researchers state.
Researchers are hopeful that this enzymes was worms have can be synthesised in affordable, mass-produced ways.