Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Uncovering the secret world of the Plastisphere

26.02.2014
Scientists are revealing how microbes living on floating pieces of plastic marine debris affect the ocean ecosystem, and the potential harm they pose to invertebrates, humans and other animals. New research being presented here today delves deeper into the largely unexplored world of the “Plastisphere” – an ecological community of microbial organisms living on ocean plastic that was first discovered last year.

When scientists initially studied the Plastisphere, they found that at least 1,000 different types of microbes thrive on these tiny plastic islands, and that they might pose a risk to larger animals, including invertebrates and humans. The original studies also showed that the Plastisphere’s inhabitants included bacteria known to cause diseases in animals and humans.

Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out why these potentially dangerous bacteria live on the Plastisphere, how they got there and how they are affecting the surrounding ocean.

New evidence suggests that “super-colonizers” form detectable clusters on the plastic in minutes. Other findings indicate that some types of harmful bacteria favor plastics more than others. And, scientists are exploring if fish or other ocean animals may be helping these pathogens thrive by ingesting the plastic. That could allow bacteria to acquire additional nutrients as they pass through the guts of the fish, said Tracy Mincer, an associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.

Revealing this information could help scientists better understand how much of a potential threat these harmful bacteria pose and the role the Plastisphere plays in the larger ocean ecosystem, including its potential to alter nutrients in the water. That information could also help reduce the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean – for instance, if plastics manufacturers learned how to make their products so they degrade at an optimal rate, Mincer said.

“One of the benefits of understanding the Plastisphere right now and how it interacts with biota in general, is that we are better able to inform materials scientists on how to make better materials and, if they do get out to sea, have the lowest impact possible,” said Mincer, who discovered the Plastisphere last year along with Linda Amaral-Zettler at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Erik Zettler at the SEA Education Association, both also in Woods Hole.

The Plastisphere team is presenting their latest research on these communities today at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting, which is co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union.

Other new results include discoveries about how the plastic is colonized and how it interacts with other marine organisms. Yet additional findings shed light on the similarities and differences between Plastisphere communities in different locations and on different types of plastic. This research could help scientists determine the age of plastic floating in the ocean, which could help them figure out how it breaks down in the water. It could also potentially aid in determining where the plastic debris came from, and how the plastic and the microbes that live on board could impact organisms that come into contact with them, the scientists said.

“It is clear,” said Amaral-Zettler, “that the Plastisphere definitely has a function out there in the ocean” and these experiments seek to quantify what it is.

Notes for Journalists:

The researchers on these studies will present oral presentations about their work on Monday 24 February 2014 at the Ocean Sciences Meeting. The meeting is taking place from 23 – 28 February at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. For more information for members of the news media, please go to http://www.sgmeet.com/osm2014/media.asp.

Below are abstracts of the presentations. The presentations are part of Session 140: The Science of Plastic Marine Debris and other Anthropogenic Influences being held Monday 24 February from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. local Hawaii time in room 316 B.

Title:

Comparative Microbial Community Structure and Biogeography of Atlantic and Pacific “Plastisphere” Communities

Authors:

Amaral-Zettler, L. A., Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA;

Boyd, G., Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, USA;

Slikas, B., Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Zettler, E. R., Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Mincer, T. J., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA.

Abstract:

Plastic Marine Debris (PMD) is the most abundant form of marine debris found in all of the ocean’s gyres. The Plastisphere is defined as the thin layer of life found on the outer surface of PMD. Plastisphere microbial communities on microplastics (<5 mm) collected from open ocean surface waters are distinct from the surrounding seawater and harbor a diversity of microbial species including potential pathogens. However, the variability of the Plastisphere over space and time remains underexplored. We completed collection and next-generation amplicon sequencing of 16S rRNA gene V6 hypervariable regions on samples from two open-ocean transects in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, giving us good data sets for comparing regional differences within and between oceans. Our data reveal that many of the same bacterial Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) inhabit the Plastisphere of Atlantic and Pacific gyres, but dominant OTUs are often distinct on different pieces of plastic regardless of ocean basin. Our sampling strategy allows us to compare and contrast Plastisphere biogeography along marine longitudinal and latitudinal gradients.

 Title:

Microbial Succession on Plastic Marine Debris: Development of the “Plastisphere” Community

Authors:

Zettler, E. R., Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Morrall, C., St. George's University, Grenada, West Indies; 

Proskurowski, G., University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA; 

Mincer, T. J., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Amaral-Zettler, L. A., Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA.

Abstract:

Recent studies have revealed a diverse microbial community on plastic marine debris in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the so-called “Plastisphere”. How this community develops over time on different types of plastic and in different geographic areas of the world ocean is unknown. We immersed sterile polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and glass samples in temperate (Woods Hole, MA, USA) and tropical (St. Georges, Grenada) coastal surface waters, and then monitored the development of microbial communities on these substrates using quantitative counts of scanning electron micrographs and next-generation amplicon sequencing. A variety of pennate diatoms colonized plastic marine debris within the first week and diatoms dominated the early communities in both locations, followed by bacteria. Over time the community changed and other groups such as sessile ciliates colonized the plastic. Communities on expanded polystyrene developed more slowly than on the other substrates, and total coverage increased more quickly in temperate waters than tropical waters. Changes in the diversity and composition of communities over time may provide clues to the age of plastic marine debris, which is currently difficult to determine. 

Title:

Investigation of Microbial Adherence and Virulence Factors Associated with Open-Ocean Derived Plastic Marine Debris: Vibrio Bacteria as a Model System

Authors:

Mincer, T. J., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Guzzetta, V. S., DePauw University, Greencastle, IN, USA;  

Slikas, B., Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Zettler, E. R., Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, USA; 

Amaral-Zettler, L. A., Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA.

Abstract:

Plastic Marine Debris (PMD) persists much longer than any natural floating substrate and provides an attachment surface for thin layers of life (termed the Plastisphere). Our previous amplicon sequencing surveys of 16S rRNA genes have shown that Bacteria of the genus Vibrio can comprise a major portion of the Plastisphere – at times nearly 25% of the bacterial community. We adapted a 96-well plate format biofilm quantification assay to survey over 50 Vibrio spp. cultivars for attachment ability to various plastic resins. Some vibrios demonstrated cell density-dependent attachment and/or a preference for plastic resin type. Strikingly, ‘super-colonizer’ vibrios were discovered to form measureable biofilms on plastic in a matter of minutes. In general, biofilm formation phenotypes clustered within Heat Shock Protein 60 (HSP 60) gene phylogenies. We generated a metagenomic dataset of a Vibrio-dominated PMD sample and analyzed it for key adherence and virulence genes. Characterizing Vibrio attachment to plastic will provide a model for PMD colonization and clues to the ecological function of this prevalent group of Plastisphere inhabitants.

Contact information for the researchers:

Erik Zettler, +1 (508) 360-8384, ezettler@sea.edu 

Linda Amaral-Zettler, +1 (508) 292-5990, amaral@mbl.edu 

Tracy Mincer, +1 (619) 507-8129, tmincer@whoi.edu

Mary Catherine Adams | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?
27.08.2015 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht NASA sees former Typhoon Atsani's remnants affecting Alaska
27.08.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?

A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean. The results show how tsunami waves could hit and inundate coastal areas in southern Italy and Greece. The study is published today (27 August) in Ocean Science, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Though not as frequent as in the Pacific and Indian oceans, tsunamis also occur in the Mediterranean, mainly due to earthquakes generated when the African...

Im Focus: Self-healing landscape: landslides after earthquake

In mountainous regions earthquakes often cause strong landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy rain. However, after an initial increase, the frequency of these mass wasting events, often enormous and dangerous, declines, in fact independently of meteorological events and aftershocks.

These new findings are presented by a German-Franco-Japanese team of geoscientists in the current issue of the journal Geology, under the lead of the GFZ...

Im Focus: FIC Proteins Send Bacteria Into Hibernation

Bacteria do not cease to amaze us with their survival strategies. A research team from the University of Basel's Biozentrum has now discovered how bacteria enter a sleep mode using a so-called FIC toxin. In the current issue of “Cell Reports”, the scientists describe the mechanism of action and also explain why their discovery provides new insights into the evolution of pathogens.

For many poisons there are antidotes which neutralize their toxic effect. Toxin-antitoxin systems in bacteria work in a similar manner: As long as a cell...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer IPA develops prototype of intelligent care cart

It comes when called, bringing care utensils with it and recording how they are used: Fraunhofer IPA is developing an intelligent care cart that provides care staff with physical and informational support in their day-to-day work. The scientists at Fraunhofer IPA have now completed a first prototype. In doing so, they are continuing in their efforts to improve working conditions in the care sector and are developing solutions designed to address the challenges of demographic change.

Technical assistance systems can improve the difficult working conditions in residential nursing homes and hospitals by helping the staff in their work and...

Im Focus: A Grand Voyage for Tiny Organisms

Climate and Ecosystem Change in the Mediterranean

Since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 many hundreds of marine animal and plant species from the Red Sea have invaded the eastern Mediterranean, leading...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking conference in Heidelberg for outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists

20.08.2015 | Event News

Scientists meet in Münster for the world’s largest Chitin und Chitosan Conference

20.08.2015 | Event News

Large agribusiness management strategies

19.08.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Cells cling and spiral 'like vines' in first 3-D tissue scaffold for plants

27.08.2015 | Life Sciences

Hypoallergenic parks: Coming soon?

27.08.2015 | Health and Medicine

Stiffer breast tissue in obese women promotes tumors

27.08.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>