By Grace Stevens, age 11
Federica Bertocchini, the Spanish National Research Council lead scientist, found one solution to the world’s microplastic problem in her own backyard. In October 2022, she released her team’s research on how wax worm saliva can break down certain plastics.
“My beehives were plagued with wax worms, so I started cleaning them, putting the worms in a plastic bag,” Federica Bertocchini, a biologist in Spain, told The Guardian. “After a while, I noticed lots of holes, and we found it wasn’t only chewing, it was [chemical breakdown].”
Plastics like polyethylene are specifically designed to hold up for a long time, meaning they can take years or even centuries to decompose naturally. Eventually, these plastics break down into small parts called microplastics, which results in plastic being found everywhere, from oceans, forests, beaches and even rainwater!
The researchers found that when two enzymes from a wax worm’s saliva collide, it results in a chemical reaction that breaks down microplastics. The researchers say that just one hour of exposure to the saliva degrades the plastic as much as years of weathering would.
The team hopes that this research will result in more natural approaches to tackling plastic pollution.