Scientists Discover Worm Saliva That Can Break Down Plastic

File this one under hopeful and also, weird. Scientists stumbled on a potential solution to some of the plastic waste crisis that is plaguing the planet.

While tending to her beekeeping hobby, Spanish researcher Federica Bertocchini found wax worms eating the honeycomb. She temporarily put the worms in a plastic bag while she cleaned her panels. When she returned a while later, she noticed the worms had eaten their way out of the plastic bag.  Upon further study, Bertocchini found that the worms were actually oxidizing the plastic, chemically modifying it in ways unseen before. Indeed, the saliva of the worms was able to break down the plastic into small polymers. It’s potentially the first time an animal has been found with properties able to degrade plastic this way.

This has led to further research where potentially, a worm-derived enzyme could be poured onto plastic waste, degrading plastic into something that could naturally decompose.

It’s still early days before the research is finalized, and a commercially-available solution might be available, but it’s an exciting discovery.

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Photograph: CSIC Communications Department/PA