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We learn a lot by paying attention to the little things — in this case, the very little, bug-sized things.

That's what biologist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini noticed while tending to her beehives in Madrid.

To keep her bees healthy and happy, Bertocchini has to remove pests that move into the hives, including a tiny beeswax-munching caterpillar known as the wax worm.


A comb full of beeswax is a tasty meal for wax worms. Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

One day, Bertocchini was clearing out the worms, placing them in a plastic grocery bag. After working for a while, she discovered the plastic bag had developed a bunch of little holes.

The worms were eating their way out!

Plastic-eating caterpillars? Yep, they're real.

What's a freak event to one person can be inspiration to a scientist. Bertocchini decided to put the little critters to the test.

She rounded up some colleagues and gave the caterpillars more polyethylene bags to munch on. Polyethylene makes up about 40% of Europe's plastic demand. Sure enough, the caterpillars started eating through those bags, digesting the plastic, and turning it into ethylene glycol, an odorless compound found in antifreeze.

Taking a step back, Bertocchini's team said this actually makes sense. The worms normally eat wax to survive, and wax and plastic aren't that different, chemically. But this discovery could have big consequences for the environment.

A new way to digest plastic could make a difference both on land and in the ocean.

Humans love their plastic — plastic bottles, milk jugs, sandwich baggies — but unfortunately, we don't pay that much attention to what happens after we use it. Scientists estimate 4 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year.

Trash in Manila Bay in 2014. Photo from Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images

And while ethylene glycol — what the worms are pooping out — isn't exactly great for the environment either, the substance breaks down in weeks instead of the decades or centuries that a polyethylene bag might take.

Caterpillars, bacteria, and other critters have been seen eating or breaking down plastic bags before, though Bertocchini's team said the wax worms broke down plastic faster than any other recent discoveries.

This is a really cool example of scientists learning from nature.

Though the digestion happened pretty quickly compared to other methods, it still took 100 worms 12 hours to eat through a little more than 90 milligrams of plastic. It would take those worms about a month to break down one plastic bag.

Bertocchini and her team don't yet know what exactly it is inside the wax worms that's breaking down the plastic — it might be an enzyme or some kind of gut bacteria — but once they figure that out, they might be able to supercharge the process and harness it for good.

In a news release, Bertocchini's team said they want to find a way to use this discovery to clean up our rivers and oceans. Their paper was published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

10/10. The Mayyas dance.

We can almost always expect to see amazing acts and rare skills on “America’s Got Talent.” But sometimes, we get even more than that.

The Mayyas, a Lebanese women’s dance troupe whose name means “proud walk of a lioness,” delivered a performance so mesmerizing that judge Simon Cowell called it the “best dance act” the show has ever seen, winning them an almost instant golden buzzer.

Perhaps this victory comes as no surprise, considering that the Mayyas had previously won “Arab’s Got Talent” in 2019 and competed on “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions.” But truly, it’s what motivates them to take to the stage that’s remarkable.

“Lebanon is a very beautiful country, but we live a daily struggle," one of the dancers said to the judges just moments before their audition. Another explained, “being a dancer as a female Arab is not fully supported yet.”

Nadim Cherfan, the team’s choreographer, added that “Lebanon is not considered a place where you can build a career out of dancing, so it’s really hard, and harder for women.”

Still, Cherfan shared that it was a previous “AGT” star who inspired the Mayyas to defy the odds and audition anyway. Nightbirde, a breakout singer who also earned a golden buzzer before tragically passing away in February 2021 due to cancer, had told the audience, “You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” The dance team took the advice to heart.

For the Mayyas, coming onto the “AGT” stage became more than an audition opportunity. Getting emotional, one of the dancers declared that it was “our only chance to prove to the world what Arab women can do, the art we can create, the fights we fight.”

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