Pharmacist Danielle Trentin stumbled upon her research focus quite unexpectedly when she noticed the larvae in her study were ingesting the plastic containers they were housed in. Upon realizing that she needed to switch to glass jars, she had a revelation: why not study these larvae as a potential solution to the pervasive issue of plastic waste in the environment?
Danielle earned both her master’s and Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, where she also completed a post-doctoral internship. A cactus enthusiast, Danielle maintains a collection of 19 plants at home, which she tends to after her lectures at the Federal University of Health Sciences in Porto Alegre, where she serves as a faculty member.
The evolution of safe disposal or degradation methods has not matched the surge in plastic use. Polyethylene, a common component of plastic bags and packaging, is largely resistant to biodegradation. Its inert nature and accumulation pose significant threats to both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In 2017, it was reported that Galleria mellonella larvae could rapidly degrade polyethylene. Interestingly, this degradation does not seem to be solely due to the larvae’s chewing process. This research, which involves a multidisciplinary approach encompassing Microbiology, Biotechnology, Chemistry, and Physics, seeks to understand the mechanisms behind the plastic degradation by G. mellonella. The key questions are: Is this degradation action initiated by the larvae, their intestinal microorganisms, or both? By unraveling the chemical processes involved in this natural plastic degradation, we can propose new strategies to address the environmental issue of plastic waste.