Last year or sometime in the past when I was delving into the wonders of the amazing and eternally surprising Internet, I found out that there now were worms that were capable of consuming plastic as fuel. Of course, one of the first questions that passed through my mind was what came out of these worms once their digestion process was wrapped up. I didn’t want to imagine them pooping plastic if you know what I mean.
The fact is that what they do create is entirely organic and can even be used as compost if that’s what you feel like doing. The experiment took place the University of Cambridge, where Federica Bertocchini, a biologist with the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, Spain, got together with two of her colleagues, Christopher Howe and Paolo Bombelli.
The test was rather simple. They would place this outstanding species with several styrofoam cups and bits of plastic in a container and wait for something to happen. Believe it or not, one hundred worms managed to eat about 92 milligrams of plastic in as little as twelve hours. I would call that revolutionary if it weren’t for the services of one hundred worms, which seems a bit too much. Besides, 92 milligrams of plastic is about the size of 4 rice grains, so it’s not really all that impressive. However, given the fact that there’s a high chance that we will end up buried in plastic in the future centuries, it’s still a breathtaking discovery. Who knows what other critters could be capable of doing the same?
It’s also worth noting that the scientists who have performed the experiment have yet to find out exactly how the magic happened. They don’t know whether the worms consumed the plastic just because they wanted to or had developed a certain taste for it beforehand or because there were bacteria in their gut to help them digest it. Some say that it might be both.
The wonderful thing about all of this is that Bertocchini is a beekeeping enthusiast and it ever so happened that she came across several worms that ate the wax produced by the bees. Because she had little to no knowledge about the species or the reason she had found the worms consuming the wax, she kept them in a plastic bag until further notice. That’s how she discovered that the plastic bag also became food for the worms. If that’s not spectacular, I really don’t know what is.
There’s talk of an enzyme or a molecule that might be responsible for the reaction. If that’s the case, maybe scientists could transfer it to other worm species that could finally help us reduce plastic.