Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have investigated the use of moth larvae to eat and digest polyethylene (PE) material.

According to the institute, larvae of the Galleria melonella wax moth were thought to contribute to the CO2-neutral elimination of the mountains of plastic waste that are growing worldwide. However, it was still unknown if the animals actually digests the PE or merely crushes and excretes it. The researchers therefore used high-resolution Raman microscopy and software to follow the path of the plastic through the caterpillar to help clarify the process. Using machine learning, the researchers separated the superimposed Raman spectra of the components, Fraunhofer said. This enabled the researchers to detect even low concentrations of a substance, such as PE, within a complex mixture, in three dimensions, with a resolution of up to 0.001 mm.

According to Fraunhofer, the analytical measurement data did not provide any evidence that the caterpillars digest the polyethylene.

‘The fact that caterpillars biodegrade polyethylene remains a visionary goal for the time being, and intensive interdisciplinary efforts are essential to achieve it,’ said Dr Bastian Barton, who supervised the research project at Fraunhofer LBF. ‘For scientific research, it is therefore all the more important to avoid and recycle plastic waste, taking into account all stages along the packaging value chain.’

This story uses material from Fraunhofer, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.