Plastic Eating Worms (L2)

Plastic Eating Worms (L2)
Photo by Antoine GIRET / Unsplash

Waxworms have the ability to biodegrade plastic, which could potentially help solve the planet’s plastic problem. Doctor Federica Bertocchini discovered this phenomenon accidentally when she put some waxworms in a plastic bag and noticed that they were producing holes. Further research found that the worms’ saliva contains enzymes that can oxidize polyethylene. Another enzyme called PETase, found in a bacteria called Ideonella sakaiensis, can break down PET plastic in a matter of days. Scientists are working on scaling up these enzymes to have a real impact at scale. Additionally, scientists in Edinburgh have found a way to upcycle plastic by turning it into vanillin using E. coli. Upcycling plastic re-enters the carbon back into the chemicals economy as something of higher value.

Writing Ideas

  • Imagine a future where plastic waste is no longer a problem. How did we get there? What role did waxworms and enzymes like PETase play in this future?
  • Write an argumentative essay on the benefits and drawbacks of upcycling plastic into other products such as vanillin or pharmaceutical compounds.
  • Write a fictional story about a scientist who discovers a new way to degrade plastic using an unlikely source.
  • Write a news article about the discovery of waxworms’ ability to biodegrade plastic and its potential impact on the environment.

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