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Apr 25, 2017 10:44 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered that a waxworm is capable of eating through plastic materials at uniquely high speeds. The tiny caterpillar has the ability to break down even the toughest plastics which can offer an environmentally friendly solution to the world's plastic problem.

There are around a trillion plastic bags that are used worldwide each year and a huge number of these plastic find their way into the oceans. The Washington Post reported that Americans use 102 billion plastic bags per year and it can last for an estimated 1,000 years.

The waxworm can be commonly found living in bee hives or harvested as fishing bait. It can eat through polyethylene, which is notoriously hard to break down.

The researchers believe the worm has enzymes in its saliva or its gut, which attacks the plastic's chemical bonds similar to the way they digest wax found in hives. Federica Bertocchini, researcher at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria and a biologist and amateur beekeeper, discovered the waxworm's potential after cleaning out her hives and temporarily placed the parasites in a plastic bag. She noticed a hole in the plastic bags.

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The researchers confirmed by mashing up some of the worms and smeared them on polyethylene bags, which game them a similar result. Paolo Bombelli from Cambridge Univesity said it was a very exciting discovery because breaking plastic has proven to be challenging for some time. He added that mass reproduction of these enzymes on a large scale using biotechnological methods can greatly help recycling plants to biodegrade mass quantities of plastic, Stuff reported.

Cambridge researchers performed a test, where 100 waxworms were let loose on a plastic bag from a British supermarket. Holes appeared just 40 minutes after they were released. Over a period of 12 hours, the 92mg plastic bag had been consumed.

The study was published in the journal, Current Biology. Dr Bertocchini, said they plan to implement the findings into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste to save oceans, rivers, and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation.

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Follows caterpillars, plastic bag, waxworm, plastic, polyethylene, bee hives, enzymes, Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Cantabria, Paolo Bombelli, Federica Bertocchini, biotechnological methods, recycling plants, biodegrade, Current Biology
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