Wax worm saliva and the enzymes therein are the key to polyethylene degradation by Galleria mellonella
A. Sanluis-Verdes, P. Colomer-Vidal, F. Rodriguez-Ventura, M. Bello-Villarino, M. Spinola-Amilibia, E. Ruiz-Lopez, R. Illanes-Vicioso, P. Castroviejo, R. Aiese Cigliano, M. Montoya, P. Falabella, C. Pesquera, L. Gonzalez-Legarreta, E. Arias-Palomo, M. Solà, T. Torroba, C. F. Arias & F. Bertocchini
Plastic degradation by biological systems with re-utilization of the by-products could be a future solution to the global threat of plastic waste accumulation. Here, we report that the saliva of Galleria mellonella larvae (wax worms) is capable of oxidizing and depolymerizing polyethylene (PE), one of the most produced and sturdy polyolefin-derived plastics. This effect is achieved after a few hours’ exposure at room temperature under physiological conditions (neutral pH). The wax worm saliva can overcome the bottleneck step in PE biodegradation, namely the initial oxidation step. Within the saliva, we identify two enzymes, belonging to the phenol oxidase family, that can reproduce the same effect. To the best of our knowledge, these enzymes are the first animal enzymes with this capability, opening the way to potential solutions for plastic waste management through bio-recycling/up-cycling.
Wax worm saliva, enzymes, polyethylene, degradation, Galleria mellonella.