Hungry caterpillar loves to eat Spanish plastic

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Federica Bertocchini
Waxworm enjoying a lunch of plastic

SOME discoveries come after years of painstaking research and others appear as if by sheer chance.

In this case, Federica Bertocchini of the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria keeps bees as a hobby and one day she discovered her hives were infested with caterpillars known as waxworms which love to gorge on wax in honeycombs.

Naturally, she cleared the worms from the hive and threw them all into a plastic bag and went about tending her bees but when she returned to the bag it was full of holes as the waxworms had chomped their way out of it.

With trillions of plastic bags being sent to landfill as they are almost impossible to destroy, scientists have been looking for ways to dissolve the bags without damaging the environment and it just might be that this serendipitous discovery might help.

Although Federica is not normally involved with insects or plastic, she decided to see whether this was a freak occurrence or if this was a viable method and soon had bags full of waxworms from the greater wax moth.

Each time they were put into a plastic bag, it was shredded within two or three hours so she then squished a few of the worms and spread the paste onto bags and this paste also acted to destroy the plastic.

She has now teamed up with biochemists in Cambridge and they are investigating whether this could finally be the way to destroy unwanted plastic bags.

As is often the case, fellow scientists don’t believe that this is a viable method, but it is just possible that in the same way a moth will emerge from the chrysalis of the caterpillar that a solution to this major problem will emerge from her lucky discovery.

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