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

Bioplastics maker wins government funding

July 25, 2014 12:13 pm ET

Canadian bioplastics maker Solegear Bioplastics Inc. has won $1.6 million in funding from the government-sponsored Western Innovation Initiative...    More

Image

Report: biodegradeable plastics use in Europe to grow 12 percent

July 25, 2014 10:25 am ET

The biodegradable plastics market in Europe is forecast to witness 12 percent compound growth during 2014-19, according to TechSci Research's...    More

Image

Prices trending up for some recycled resins

July 24, 2014 1:27 pm ET

Plastics News is correcting prices for recycled grades of several commodity resins on this week's resin pricing chart.    More

PetStar doubles capacity at Mexico recycling facility

July 24, 2014 2:10 pm ET

Mexican recycling giant PetStar SAPI de CV, owned by the System of Coca-Cola Bottlers in Mexico, has doubled the capacity of its facility to 130...    More

Meredian merging with Danimer Scientific

July 24, 2014 1:59 pm ET

Bioplastics maker Meredian Inc. is merging with its sister firm, Danimer Scientific LLC.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Recyclers Data Report & Directory

This exclusive MS Excel database contains all the companies from Plastics News' ranking of top North American Recyclers and Brokers by reprocessed volume and also includes a directory with materials processes, services offered and company contact information. Data is based on primary research by PN editorial staff.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events