The Amazing Wax Worm Eats Plastic!

This is amazing!

From the ABC

Wax worms biodegrade plastic bags at ‘uniquely high speeds’, study finds

Posted about 3 hours ago

Scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini picked parasitic wax worms from the honeycomb of her beehives and left them sitting in a plastic bag.

When she returned to the bag, it was riddled with holes and many of the worms had escaped.

It was that chance discovery that led her to collaborate with scientists at the University of Cambridge in England to unearth the possibility of using worms to munch through the world’s plastic problem.

The team discovered the wax worm, a caterpillar commercially bred for fishing bait, has the ability to biodegrade polyethylene — a type of plastic used to make shopping bags — at uniquely high speeds.

The degradation rate was extremely fast compared to other discoveries, like plastic-eating bacteria, the study published in Current Biology found.

When the team exposed about 100 wax worms to a plastic shopping bag, holes started to appear after 40 minutes, with a reduction of 92mg after 12 hours.

To compare: plastic-eating bacteria biodegraded plastic at a rate of 0.13mg a day, and it takes 100 to 400 years to degrade polyethylene in landfill.

Analysis showed the wax worms transformed the polyethylene into ethylene glycol, a chemical used to make polyester and anti-freeze.

The team of three scientists said the discovery could lead to a biotechnological approach to plastic pollution.

People around the world use about 1 trillion plastic bags each year, the study said, and more than 45 million tonnes of polyethylene plastics are produced annually.

“The caterpillar produces something that breaks the chemical bond, perhaps in its salivary glands or a symbiotic bacteria in its gut,” said Cambridge University’s Paolo Bombelli said.

“If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable.”

Wax has similar chemical structure to plastic

Wax moths lay their eggs inside hives where the wax worms grow on beeswax.

The worms are known for living like parasites in bee colonies and damaging hives by eating their wax comb.

Researchers said breaking down plastic and beeswax required similar types of chemical bonds.

“Wax is a polymer, a sort of natural plastic, and has a chemical structure not dissimilar to polyethylene,” Ms Bertocchini, from the Spanish National Research Council, said.

When the team mashed up the worms and smeared them into plastic they had similar degradation results to when the caterpillar “ate through” the plastic.

“The caterpillars are not just eating the plastic without modifying its chemical make-up. We showed that the polymer chains in polyethylene plastic are actually broken by the wax worms,” Mr Bombelli said.

“The next steps for us will be to try and identify the molecular processes in this reaction and see if we can isolate the enzyme responsible.”

Creationists Rebutting Flat Earthers

Creationists are often accused of being in the same category as flat earthers. Here is an interesting article from aiming to falsify one implication of the flat earth theory.


A direct test of the flat earth model: flight times

More data supporting a spherical earth


Published: 6 December 2016 (GMT+10)

Flat Earth Society, with annotations by RC


Figure 1: “Flat earth” map obtained from the Flat Earth Society website. The locations of the cities used in this study are marked (blue dots), as are the straight-line distances from Johannesburg to each city (red lines). I also added a black flag at the approximate position of the north pole. Originally, the city locations were marked in pen on a printed copy of this map, using various geographic hints from the map itself, but the data are recreated here for the sake of the reader.

After receiving such a surprising number of negative comments on our flat-earth rebuttal, I decided to perform a numerical analysis of the flat-earth model compared to the traditional spherical-earth model.

Science is about testing hypotheses, so let us set up an experiment to test these alternative views. For this, I enlisted the help of two of my children, ages 13 and 11. It made for a fun homeschoolproject.

The basic problem is the distance between longitude lines in the flat-earth model. In a spherical earth, the longitude lines start from one pole and converge on the other pole, and the distances get wider the closer they are to the equator. But in the northern-hemisphere–biased flat-earth model, the longitude lines start from the north pole and radiate outwards to the supposed ‘encircling southern polar ring’ like spokes on a wheel.

This means that the distances become greater the further south they go. This suggests an easy test of the two models: compare distances to travel times for distant places in the southern hemisphere.

The normalized data revealed a tight correlation between the spherical earth model and flight time.

The goal of this simple study was to compare reported airline flight time data with two distance measures, the ‘great circle’ distance of spherical-earth theory and the ‘straight-line’ distance of flat-earth theory.

The driving hypothesis is that the flat-earth map is distorted and so the flight times will not match the calculated distances. This, of course, assumes there is no great conspiracy among the millions of people working for the airline industry or the tens of millions of people who fly on their airplanes annually, which seems reasonable. I am also assuming airplanes on a flat earth would use the rule we all learned in geometry that ‘the shortest distance between any two points on a [standard, Euclidean] plane is a straight line’.

This assumption was in favor of the flat earth model for, as we will see, any curved line would only exacerbate the noticeable distortion with increasing flight time and distance from the source.


Read the rest here

Long Term Cannabis Use Is Bad

Support: Thousands of supporters of decriminalised marijuana smoke at the Civic Centre Park in Denver, Colorado in 2012, ahead of the vote to legalise the drug. The bill was passed

A major study now calls into question claims about the safety of marijuana for long term use. While I can see that it might be useful for some medical conditions, it is foolish to pretend that it is a relatively benign recretional drug.

From The Daily Mail:

The terrible truth about cannabis: Expert’s devastating 20-year study finally demolishes claims that smoking pot is harmless

One in six teenagers who regularly smoke the drug become dependent

It doubles risk of developing psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia

Heavy use in adolescence appears to impair intellectual development

Driving after smoking cannabis doubles risk of having a car crash

Study’s author said: ‘If cannabis is not addictive then neither is heroin’

The drug is currently legal in two states – Washington and Colorado

A further 21 states have allowed it to be used for medicinal purposes

Obama said earlier this year cannabis is not as dangerous as alcohol

Read the full article here

Not So Much Water On Mars After All

Remember all the hype about evidence of flowing water on Mars and the possibility of life being there?

Well NASA is now saying that the gullies on Mars were not caused by erosion due to water, although the presence of some salty deposits that indicate water has not yet been ruled out.

A lot less sexy than the “life on Mars” meme but not unexpected.

From the ABC:

Mars gullies not caused by flowing water, NASA says


New NASA research has shown the gullies on Mars were not formed by flowing liquid water.

Key points:

  • Study of gullies on Mars found no evidence of water or its by-products
  • Scientists say gullies could have been formed on Mars by freezing and thawing carbon dioxide frost
  • Previous research showed signs of water on slopes and streaks on Mars


The data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter released on Monday will allow researchers to narrow down theories about how Martian gullies formed and reveal more details about Mars’ geologic processes, NASA said in a statement.

The gullies are different to another prominent feature of Mars— slopes and streaks called recurring slope lineage (RSL) which are distinguished by seasonal darkening and fading.

Water in the form of hydrated salt was identified at RSL sites in September last year, also using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data.

Chemical analysis of dark streaks on the surface of the planet identified the presence of hydrated salts that are the signature of liquid salty water.

But the new research — which focused solely on gullies — found no trace of water, by looking at the gully formation process and adding composition information to previous imaging, NASA said.


Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland in the US examined high-resolution compositional data from more than 100 gully sites throughout Mars.

NASA said the findings showed no mineralogical evidence of liquid water or its by-products.

The research suggested the gullies could have been formed by the freeze and thaw of carbon dioxide frost.

The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“On Earth and on Mars, we know that the presence of phyllosilicates — clays — or other hydrated minerals indicates formation in liquid water,” lead paper author Jorge Nunez said in a NASA statement.

“In our study, we found no evidence for clays or other hydrated minerals in most of the gullies we studied, and when we did see them, they were erosional debris from ancient rocks, exposed and transported down-slope, rather than altered in more recent flowing water.


“These gullies are carving into the terrain and exposing clays that likely formed billions of years ago when liquid water was more stable on the Martian surface.”