Could a worm help prevent food waste and save oceans from plastic?

Researchers at Tufts University discovered that a coating containing a silk protein, from silkworms, kept some produce from spoiling for longer periods and without refrigeration.

When strawberries were dipped into the solution several times, the berries lasted for a week at room temperature. The berries that weren’t dipped showed color changes and were shriveled.

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The findings are significant because one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted every year, according to the United Nations. The rate is even higher for fruits and vegetables (up to 50 percent). Spoilage is a large reason why.

This new silk substance also could be a biodegradable alternative to plastic. Plastic ocean pollution is particularly a problem. By 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, according to one estimate.

Silk is produced from the filament of cocoons made by domesticated silkworms (which technically aren’t worms; they are the larva or caterpillar of the domesticated silk moth).

While we tend to think of silk for clothes, it has been used in foods before. Fiorenzo Omenetto, one of the scientists involved in the study, told the Wall Street Journal that in Asia, hydrolyzed silk is sometimes used as a protein additive in noodles, candy and other foods.

The researchers weren’t allowed to taste the fruit as part of the study. Omenetto said he believes the solution would be flavorless, because he has tasted silkworms in the past.

Could silk-derived products replace plastics? “That’s our dream,” Omenetto told The Independent in the U.K.