We found out that the caterpillar of the moth Galleria mellonella can degrade Polyethylene within 1 hour from the contact.
The larva (or caterpillar) of the moth Galleria mellonella, also called wax worm
After being in contact with the wax worm for less than an hour, the plastic bag is full of holes
When a thin film (20–30 µm) of PE is placed in contact with the wax worm the area in touch results modified. The PE film in contact is clearly vanished.
We found that the chemical structure of the plastic is altered, with introduction of oxygen (oxidation). This oxidation is key to this discovery. The main goal is to identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for this reaction.
For details about the discovery, go to here
Supplemental Information: here
We went a step further and discovered the key of this key oxidation reaction
Enzymes in the wax worm saliva are responsible of PE oxidation and of breaking down the polymer within hours. They are capable to exert this strong effect in some still unknown fashion.
These enzymes can be applied to plastic in a water solution and at room temperature, and in contact with PE cause the formation of degradation products such as ketones, among other compounds. This new discovery opens up highways of potential applications in the field of plastic bioremediation via bio-recycling.
For further details, see Sanluis et al., 2022