Monday, March 29, 2010

Are marine microbes our answer to plastic pollution?


Microbes are the most numerous of marine organisms, and recent studies are underway to see just how these organisms interact with plastics in the ocean. Plastic pollution is a big problem, because in the environment, it can take thousands of years to break down. Over time, the size of plastic decreases in the ocean because of natural forces wearing on it. The tiny fragments are dangerous because they can absorb toxins that can be ingested by marine animals. Researchers at the University of Sheffield and the Center for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture science are providing evidence that the type of microbes that grow on these plastic fragments significantly varies from the microbial groups that colonize the wider environments. These microbes may be contributing to the breakdown of plastic pollution and toxins in the marine environment. Using DNA experiments, these researchers are finding that plastic is quickly colonized by many species of bacteria that together form a biofilm along the plastic surface. This biofilm is only formed by certain types of marine bacteria. It's going to take more research to fully understand the impact these bacteria have on plastic pollution, but these experiments could offer insight into the impacts of plastic pollution on the global environment.
Picture from: http://www.surfrider.org/kauai/SR_Kauai/RiseAbovePlastics_files/Snapshot%202008-04-14%2016-30-34.jpg

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting, i know that there are many species of bacteria that help clean up oil spills and other environmental contaminants. I am curious to see if these bacteria are actually breaking down the plastic and if it has any effect on there normal life style.

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  2. This post goes right along with microbiology and what we learned in the beginning of class. Like Wendy said, bacteria have been used to help clean up human messes. It is very interesting that these marine microbes may be able to break down plastic. The mechanism for this breakdown would be interesting to figure out. If it could be pinpointed, maybe there would be a way to isolate it and put the gene into common microbes to use in landfills?

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  3. I found this post very interesting. I had no idea that bacteria could be used to clean up the messes humans create. I think it is amazing how something that is usually considered not that important in everday life has the ability to break down plastic!

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  4. I read an article recently where a certain brand of plastic water bottles were composed of materials which could be decomposed by bacteria in the soil in a reasonable number of years. Hopefully these methods catch on, and we recycle plastic faster.

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  5. If this bacteria could be used to breakdown plastic, I'm curious of the effects adding large amounts of this bacteria would have on surrounding ecosystems. Through run off these bacteria could make their way into streams and spread very quickly and could cause unintended side effects.

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  6. This is really cool. It would be great if we can somehow isolate the gene that allows these bacteria to break down plastic the same way some bacteria can clean up oil spills. I heard about those "special plastic" bottles too.

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