Insect larvae that eat polyethylene have diverse bacterial cocktail in their stomach
MINNEAPOLIS — To destroy plastic, caterpillars go with their gut bacteria.
Caterpillars that nibble through polyethylene plastic cultivate a diverse community of digestive bacteria that process the plastic, researchers reported November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North America. Dousing old plastic in a similar mix of bacteria might speed the breakdown of the persistent pollutant.
Polyethylene is widely used to make plastic bags and other packaging materials, but it hangs around in landfills for decades, perhaps even centuries. Recently, scientists identified several species of caterpillars that appear to eat and digest the plastic, breaking it down. But dumping old shopping bags into a den of caterpillars isn’t really a practical large-scale strategy for getting rid of the plastic. So to figure out the insects’ secret, researchers fed polyethylene to the larvae of pantry moths