Scientists have made the stunning discovery that the caterpillar of the wax moth Galleria mellonella can rapidly break down polyethylene glycol (a form of plastic) and produce ethylene glycol as a byproduct.
The study, which was published in the journal Cell by Paolo Bombelli of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, revealed that wax worm larvae consumed 92 mg of polyethylene glycol after being left in a shopping bag for 12 hours.
Plastic made of polyethylene glycol is widely used across the world in large quantities for packaging. Since polyethylene glycol does not decompose easily, plastic is among the pollutants considered to be an environmental hazard.
While some other organisms have the ability to biodegrade polyethylene glycol, the process is much slower compared to that of the wax worm larvae.
Further research is necessary to find out exactly how wax worms biodegrade plastic. However, the authors of the study theorized that it could be related to the wax worm’s unique biological makeup that enables it to feed on bee wax.