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New Study Reveals That Wax Worm Saliva Degrades Plastic

Can caterpillar spit save the planet? New study reveals wax worm saliva contains enzymes that mitigate plastic pollution.

wax worm saliva study
Written by
Calin Van Paris
Our plastic problem can seem insurmountable at times. Globally, we produce more than
400 million tons of plastic per year
. And between the various
, the material's
impressive lifespan
, and the ubiquitous
, the truth is that even the most aggressive of zero-waste lifestyles can't eliminate the copious amount of plastic waste that exists on the planet. But, as it turns out, caterpillar spit can.
According to a
new study
from Nature Communications, the saliva of wax worm larvae is capable of breaking down one of the most common plastics: polyethylene (PE). High-density and low-density PE account for
more than 30%
of all plastic production, making this discovery as essential as it is exciting.

How Does Wax Worm Saliva Break Down Plastic?

wax worm saliva study
Wax worm (or Galleria mellonella) saliva both oxidizes and depolymerizes polyethylene after just a few hours of exposure. Researchers identified
two specific enzymes
in the magical spit—Demetra and Ceres, referred to in the study as the PEases—that causes within hours a level of PE deterioration that would take months or even years naturally.
These enzymes represent the first able to elicit this
level of deterioration
in such a short time span and minus any additional heat. One small creature's saliva, one giant step for mankind.