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印度谷螟的幼虫可以消化塑料,有望解决污染问题

IMAGE: THIS IMAGE SHOWS A WAX WORM CHEWING A HOLE THROUGH PLASTIC. POLYETHYLENE DEBRIS CAN BE SEEN ATTACHED TO THE CATERPILLAR. 

蜡螟虫在聚乙烯塑料上咬出一个洞 

Generally speaking, plastic is incredibly resistant to breaking down. That's certainly true of the trillion polyethylene plastic bags that people use each and every year. But researchers reporting in Current Biology on April 24 may be on track to find a solution to plastic waste. The key is a caterpillar commonly known as a wax worm.

一般而言,塑料是一种难以降解的材料,而另一个事实是人们每年使用数万亿只塑料袋,这样就导致了一个全球性的环境污染问题。但在4月24日有研究者在Current Biology 上发表了一篇文章,该文章宣称找到一种解决塑料垃圾的新途径,而这一解决方案的核心是一种叫蜡螟虫的小虫子。

"We have found that the larva of a common insect, Galleria mellonella, is able to biodegrade one of the toughest, most resilient, and most used plastics: polyethylene," says Federica Bertocchini of the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria in Spain. A previous study (doi: 10.1021/es504038a) has shown that Plodia interpunctella wax worms, the larvae of dian mealmoths, can also digest plastic.

西班牙坎塔布里亚的生物医学和生物技术学院的Federica Bertocchini宣称“我们发现一种叫做蜡螟的小虫子的幼体能够消化一种用途最广、最难降解的聚乙烯塑料”。在这之前有一篇文章(doi: 10.1021/es504038a)表明印度谷螟的幼虫也可以消化塑料。



Bertocchini and her colleagues made the discovery quite by accident, after noticing that plastic bags containing wax worms quickly became riddled with holes. Further study showed that the worms can do damage to a plastic bag in less than an hour.After 12 hours, all that munching of plastic leads to an obvious reduction in plastic mass. The researchers showed that the wax worms were not only ingesting the plastic, they were also chemically transforming the polyethylene into ethylene glycol. This is suspected to be the case in Plodia interpunctella as well.

Bertocchini及其同事偶然间发现装有蜡螟虫的塑料袋很快就出现了小洞,进一步研究后他们发现这种虫子可以在一小时之内破坏掉一只塑料袋。12小时之后,所有被咀嚼过的塑料都明显变成了胶质体。研究者表示这些蜡螟虫不仅会咀嚼这些塑料,也会将聚乙烯塑料转化为乙二醇。研究表明印度谷螟虫也具有消化聚乙烯塑料的能力。

Although wax worms wouldn't normally eat plastic, the researchers suspect that their ability is a byproduct of their natural habits. Wax moths lay their eggs inside beehives. The worms hatch and grow on beeswax, which is composed of a highly diverse mixture of lipid compounds. The researchers say the molecular details of wax biodegradation require further investigation, but it's likely that digesting beeswax and polyethylene involves breaking down similar types of chemical bonds. "Wax is a polymer, a sort of 'natural plastic,' and has a chemical structure not dissimilar to polyethylene," Bertocchini says.


虽然,蜡螟虫并不以塑料作为食物,但是研究者相信它们的这种消耗塑料的能力和它们的生物习性有很大的关系。蜡螟虫会将它们的卵产在蜂房中,它们的幼虫会在蜂蜡上孵化和成长,而蜂蜡是一种由多种胶质组成的混合物。研究者表示蜡螟虫消化聚乙烯的细节还需要进一步研究,但可以确定在消化蜂蜡和聚乙烯时会涉及到类型相同的化学键的变化。Bertocchini表示“蜂蜡是一种自然界存在的聚合物,它和聚乙烯有着相似的化学结构”。

As the molecular details of the process become known, the researchers say it could be used to devise a biotechnological solution to managing polyethylene waste. They'll continue to explore the process in search of such a strategy.

随着对于聚乙烯生物降解过程中分子结构变化的进一步研究,研究者将能够设计成一条聚乙烯生物降解的解决方案。

"We are planning to implement this finding into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste, working towards a solution to save our oceans, rivers, and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation," Bertocchini says. "However," she adds, "we should not feel justified to dump polyethylene deliberately in our environment just because we now know how to bio-degrade it."

Bertocchini表示“我们计划通过这样一种生物降解的方法去解决塑料制品积累给我们的海洋、河流及自然环境带来的危害”,但是“我们也不要因为已经知道如何降解聚乙烯材料而故意向自然环境倾倒聚乙烯制品”。




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