Plastic pollution. “Plastic-eating” enzymes discovered in larval saliva.

Enzymes present in the larvae’s saliva can rapidly degrade one of the most used plastics in the world, paving the way for fighting this form of pollution, according to a study published Tuesday.

Of the 400 million tonnes of plastic produced each year according to OECD estimates, around one third are polyethylene. Derived from petrochemicals, simple and cheap to produce, they are particularly used for packaging.

The UN, which describes plastic pollution as a global scourge, has recently begun negotiations to develop an international treaty aimed at reducing this phenomenon.

Green moths

The fact that some enzymes can attack plastics was already documented, but for long periods of time.

However, according to the work of a team of Spanish researchers, published in Nature Communications, two enzymes present in the saliva of wax moth larvae (galleria mellonella) attack polyethylene within hours at room temperature.

Federica Bertocchini, of the Margarita Salas Center for Biological Studies in Madrid, lead author of the study and amateur beekeeper, explained that she had the idea for this research by cleaning the hives preserved for the winter and whose wax combs had been colonized by them. larvae.

After cleaning the hives, he placed the larvae in a plastic bag and soon discovered that it was “full of holes”.

“The question was: do they eat it (the larvae) or is there a chemical process? We checked in the lab and found that the polyethylene had been oxidized, “she told AFP.

Not exactly spot on

Many further studies and experiments will be needed to fully understand the process before considering a concrete application of the discovery, the researchers point out.

But Federica Bertocchini is already imagining different ways of using it against plastic pollution.

“The enzymes could be integrated into a liquid solution and poured onto the plastic in the recycling center,” or be used in isolated places where collection or recycling is difficult, or even possibly in individual households to degrade their own waste.


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