Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella

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Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella

Scientists found caterpillars of the wax moth, Galleria mellonella can digest polyethylene plastic bags, breaking down its chemical components.

The study published in Current Biology is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.060

"This discovery could be an important tool for helping to get rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in landfill sites and oceans," said Cambridge University professor Paolo Bombelli, co-author of the study.


Paolo Bombelli, Christopher J. Howe & Federica Bertocchini, 2017. Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax morth Galleria mellonella . Current Biology, vol 27:8, R292-R293.



Plastics are synthetic polymers derived from fossil oil and largely resistant to biodegradation. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) represent ∼92% of total plastic production. PE is largely utilized in packaging, representing ∼40% of total demand for plastic products (www.plasticseurope.org) with over a trillion plastic bags used every year [1]. Plastic production has increased exponentially in the past 50 years (Figure S1A in Supplemental Information, published with this article online). In the 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills, with the rest utilized for recycling (26%) and energy recovery (36%) via combustion (www.plasticseurope.org), carrying a heavy environmental impact. Therefore, new solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed. We report the fast bio-degradation of PE by larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella, producing ethylene glycol.

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