Waxworm Wonders

Caterpillars Offer Clues to Plastic Cleanup




monticelloSefa Kaya

Waxworms, a type of caterpillar, are vexing to beekeepers because they devour the wax that bees use to build honeycombs. It turns out that they can do the same to plastic. Ongoing worldwide research reveals several types of bacteria found in waxworms that digest some kinds of plastic at rates that vary from weeks to months.

Scientist Federica Bertocchini, at the Spanish National Research Council, mashed up a quantity of the greater wax moth and applied the paste to polyethylene. After half a day, about 13 percent of the plastic had disappeared.

She collaborated with biochemists at the University of Cambridge to analyze this chemical decomposition of the plastic. They discovered that some of the substance is converted into ethylene glycol, a sign that it was genuinely being degraded. The carbon-to-carbon bonds found in polyethylene are also present in the wax that the caterpillars eat.

Susan Selke, director of the Michigan State University School of Packaging, remarks, “The hunt for organisms that can degrade plastics is on. Right now, we don’t have a good solution for dealing with the plastics that are piling up on our planet.”


This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Healing Our Kids

An estimated quarter to half of American children have a diagnosed chronic condition such as autism or allergies, but an integrative approach to healing can have profound effects.

Farewell to a Beloved Pet

Innovative options now exist that honor a pet’s remains in an earth-friendly, biodegradable fashion using alkaline water, seeded pods or a manmade ocean reef.

Natural Vitamin E Lowers Heart Risks

Tocotrienols, a natural form of vitamin E found in wheat, barley, corn, rice and palm fruit, has been shown to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure in seniors.

Music Reduces Need for Post-Surgery Opioids

After surgery, 86 percent of patients engaged in music therapy eschewed opioids and other painkillers, compared to 26 percent in a control group.

Knitting Releases the Blues

Knitting can lower depression, slow the heart rate, reduce the likelihood of dementia and distract from chronic pain, research shows.

Add your comment: