US scientists identify aquatic 'plastisphere'

PLASTICS & RUBBER WEEKLY

Published: July 8, 2013 12:45 pm ET
Updated: July 8, 2013 12:47 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability

Scientists have discovered the "plastisphere" — colonies of microbes living on flecks of plastic in the world's oceans.

In a study published online in Environmental Science & Technology, the research team says the plastisphere raises questions about marine microbes and also the overall ocean ecosystem.

The team of scientists — Erik Zettler from Sea Education Association (SEA), Tracy Mincer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and Linda Amaral-Zettler from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), all in Woods Hole, Mass. — analyzed marine plastic debris that was skimmed with fine-scale nets from the sea surface at several locations in the North Atlantic Ocean during SEA research cruises. Most were millimeter-sized fragments.

"We're not just interested in who's there. We're interested in their function, how they're functioning in this ecosystem, how they're altering this ecosystem and what's the ultimate fate of these particles in the ocean," said Amaral-Zettler. "Are they sinking to the bottom of the ocean? Are they being ingested? If they're being ingested, what impact does that have?"

Using scanning electron microscopy and gene sequencing techniques, they found at least 1,000 different types of bacterial cells on the plastic samples, including many individual species yet to be identified.

They included plants, algae, and bacteria that manufacture their own food (autotrophs), animals and bacteria that feed on them (heterotrophs), predators that feed on these, and other organisms that establish synergistic relationships (symbionts).

"The organisms inhabiting the plastisphere were different from those in surrounding seawater, indicating that plastic debris acts as artificial 'microbial' reefs," said Mincer. "They supply a place that selects for and supports distinct microbes to settle and succeed."

These communities are likely different from those that settle on naturally occurring floating material such as feathers, wood, and microalgae, because plastics offer different conditions, including the capacity to last much longer without degrading.

On the other hand, the scientists also found evidence that microbes may play a role in degrading plastics. They saw microscopic cracks and pits in the plastic surfaces that they suspect were made by microbes embedded in them, as well as microbes possibly capable of degrading hydrocarbons.

"When we first saw the 'pit formers' we were very excited, especially when they showed up on multiple pieces of plastic of different types of resins," said Zettler.


Comments

US scientists identify aquatic 'plastisphere'

PLASTICS & RUBBER WEEKLY

Published: July 8, 2013 12:45 pm ET
Updated: July 8, 2013 12:47 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Coffee roaster looks to improve footprint of single cup systems

April 22, 2014 1:30 pm ET

One of the largest coffee and tea manufacturers in North America has introduced a single-serve beverage capsule intended to curb the waste created by ...    More

Two Eastman buildings among 10 biggest energy savers in national contest

April 22, 2014 11:35 am ET

Two offices at the headquarters of Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., ranked in the Top 10 for energy efficiency in the latest Energy Star...    More

Europe's bag use still expected to climb despite possible bag restrictions

April 22, 2014 9:29 am ET

Ceresana, a Germany-based research company, has released a report forecasting that by 2020 the sales volume of bags and sacks in Europe will reach 9....    More

DuPont: Asia's food packaging market at a major transition point

April 21, 2014 1:26 pm ET

DuPont Co. touted its packaging innovations and applications, and updated the firm's commercial status at a media event two days before the Chinaplas ...    More

Image

Inventor taps into TV exposure, crowd funding for water bottle project

April 21, 2014 3:26 pm ET

An Australian inventor has developed a reusable plastic water bottle with a filter in a bid to get more people to drink tap water instead of buying di...    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Automotive Market Review and Outlook 2014 The Americas

This 75-page report features in-depth analysis of the automotive industry for the Americas. It includes discussions of market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting production and threats as well as design strategies being implemented by the major automakers. Detailed charts and data tables outline North American automotive production over the last five years.

Learn more

Plastics Building & Construction Market Review and Outlook 2014 with MS Excel chart data

This report provides in-depth analysis of the plastic building and construction market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats and the latest developments in construction trends that impact plastics processors.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events