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