Meet the humble waxworm, a caterpillar that grows in beehives and eats the wax and honey it finds there. When it's not eating plastic, anyway. Federica Bertocchini, lead author of the new paper, discovered this ability entirely by accident when she noticed waxworms on the panels of one of her beehives. Amateur beekeepers like herself, Bertocchini said in an e-mail, generally consider waxworms to be pests.
"I removed the worms, and put them in a plastic bag while I cleaned the panels. After finishing, I went back to the room where I had left the worms and I found that they were everywhere. They had escaped from the bag even though it had been closed and when I checked, I saw that the bag was full of holes. There was only one explanation: the worms had made the holes and had escaped. This project began there and then," Bertocchini said in a statement.
Have we finally found the answer to plastic waste? Scientists have been hard at work to find alternatives to plastic bags. When the alternatives failed (let's face it plastic is not going away that easy) they tried converting it into an ingredient for fuel. Despite all the efforts of scientists, they could not find the solution to plastic. It appears the answer is to our problems can be solved by pests. According to the research of Federica Bertocchini, the waxworms may be the answer we have been looking for.
The story goes that Bertocchini was tending to her bees when she came across waxworms. She removed them as they would destroy the colony's home and put them in a plastic bag. Later when she went to take care of the worms and found that they had eaten their way through the bag.
Needless to say, she got to work testing her new theory for fixing our global plastic problem. She and her team discovered that approximately 100 waxworms could eat and dispose of 96 milligrams of plastic. They found that as the plastic moves out of their digestive systems it breaks down into antifreeze and polyester which breaks down at a fast rate.
Wow, this is an amazing thing to discover. Who knew that a possible solution was sitting right under our noses. My only concern is if we mass "produce" these worms and put them into every landfill how much danger would our ecosystems see? They are pests to beekeepers will we find that they are pests to other things as well? In this scenario, I believe that the good outweighs the bad. What do you think? Should we have a plan in place to prevent overpopulation?
Will waxworms take over the planet?