Researchers at Brandon University say throwing a bunch of tiny plastic-eating worms at the world’s pollution problem won’t solve it, but hope it could one day offer a little bit a help thanks to a type of bacteria found within the worm.
A team at the southwestern Manitoba university set out to understand why the caterpillar larvae, that are typically found in bee colonies and feed on beeswax, can also survive on a diet of polyethylene — a type of plastic.
The researchers were able to home in on a species of intestinal bacteria in the worms that was able to survive on plastic — like the kind used in shopping bags and other consumer products — for more than a year as its only source of nutrients.
“It’s been known for a while that some bacteria and some fungi can biodegrade some plastic, but it’s very slow,” said Christophe LeMoine, chair of the university’s Department of Biology. “Here [with the waxworms] what’s really phenomenal is that it can happen over, like, 24 hours … which is quite fascinating when you think about it.”
LeMoine, along with an associate professor Bryan Cassone and a group of students, studied the bugs and the bacteria and found they work better together.
“Plastic-eating bacteria are known, but in isolation they degrade plastics at a very slow rate,” LeMoine said. “Likewise, when we treated the caterpillars with antibiotics to reduce their gut bacteria, they were not able to degrade the plastic as easily.
“So it seems that there is a synergy between the bacteria and their waxworm hosts that accelerates plastic degradation.”
It’s not the first time the species has been studied for this type of application and LeMoine said he and the group at Brandon University hoped to build off of research done in Europe almost three years ago.
Read the full and original article at CBC.ca