Plastic-eating worms and the nylonase story

Nylonase is a popular evolutionary icon as nylon is a recent human invention and a nylon-eating bacteria strand was discovered in 1975. But beyond inquiries into the “evolutionary mechanism” powering this strand, the question is: does this story even make sense?

Recent research shows that common mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic. Most plastics have also been recently developed and are considered human creations, yet as of now, no one claims that these worms evolved to eat these plastics.

Organisms have various capabilities. We don’t know that a Nylonase equivalent cannot be found in nature, that the bacteria didn’t already have the capability to digest Nylonase even before the material was discovered, or that bacteria’s rapid adaptability is not built into the organism. If either one of these is true, then the Nylonase story is a non-story.


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