No, they won’t help us with this particular environmental problem: Bacteria are definitely not able to decompose plastic released into marine environments, and they are unlikely to acquire this ability through evolution. This is the conclusion reached by microbiologists Sonja Oberbeckmann and Matthias Labrenz from the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW) in a comprehensive review study concerning biofilms on microplastics. The results have now been published in the renowned international journal Annual Review of Marine Science.
Our waters are polluted with microplastics. Whether it’s fibres from fleece pullovers, plastic pellets from toothpaste or disintegrating plastic bags and bottles: All these small plastic particles eventually end up in the ocean, with unforeseeable consequences for the marine environment.
Since these mini-particles are also colonised by bacteria, the question arose quite early as to whether specific microbes might accumulate on microplastics. Such specialists might even be able to degrade the seemingly indestructible material at some point and thus rid the oceans of this contamination in the long term.
The IOW microbiologists Sonja Oberbeckmann and Matthias Labrenz, who have been working on this question for several years, have now summarised and re-evaluated their own results, as well as those of several hundred studies published worldwide.
They come to the conclusion that the interactions between bacteria and microplastic particles in marine habitats are actually quite limited. Although bacteria colonise these particles, they do not degrade them because the required energy would be far too high.
Moreover, microplastics are so difficult for bacteria to degrade that they are highly unlikely to develop a plastic degradation mechanism under the marine conditions in the future. “This means that we remain on our own dealing with the challenge of getting rid of microplastics. Since we cannot remove it from our oceans, it will continue to accumulate there. Ultimately, this could turn into a ‘chronic disease’ of the affected ecosystems,” Oberbeckmann and Labrenz comment on this particular result of their study.
The two microbiologists are therefore calling for proactive, consistent measures to protect the oceans from plastic waste, such as a significant and timely reduction of plastic-made wealth products (from plastic bags to plastic toys) and recycling systems, which fully realise their potential and can be used cost-effectively worldwide.
However, the extensive review also provided some good news: The frequent assumption that pathogenic bacteria might specifically accumulate on microplastics, and thus would be able to spread rapidly and widely, could not be substantiated. Microorganisms growing on microplastics usually belong to groups that are typical colonisers of particles floating in the sea and do not distinguish between natural and artificial surfaces.
Among them are indeed also harmful bacteria but they do not occur more frequently than on other particles, such as wood or other organic substances. In this respect, microplastics do not pose an increased risk in marine habitats.
Press and public relation:
Dr. Barbara Hentzsch | +49 381 5197-102 | email@example.com
Dr. Kristin Beck | +49 381 5197-135 | firstname.lastname@example.org
IOW is a member of the Leibniz Association with currently 95 research institutes and scientific infrastructure facilities. The focus of the Leibniz Institutes ranges from natural, engineering and environmental sciences to economic, social and space sciences as well as to the humanities. The institutes are jointly financed at the state and national levels. The Leibniz Institutes employ a total of 19.100 people, of whom 9.900 are scientists. The total budget of the institutes is 1.9 billion Euros. http://www.leibniz-association.eu
Dr. Sonja Oberbeckmann, IOW department Biological Oceanography
Tel.: 0381 – 5197 3464 | email@example.com
PD. Dr. Matthias Labrenz, IOW department Biological Oceanography
Tel.: 0381 – 5197 378 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Oberbeckmann, S., Labrenz, M. (2019): Marine microbial assemblages on microplastics: diversity, adaptation, and role in degradation. Annu Rev Mar Sci, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-marine-010419-010633
Dr. Kristin Beck | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Sinking groundwater levels threaten the vitality of riverine ecosystems
04.10.2019 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
After first reporting the existence of quantum knots, Aalto University & Amherst College researchers now report how the knots behave
A quantum gas can be tied into knots using magnetic fields. Our researchers were the first to produce these knots as part of a collaboration between Aalto...
Researchers have succeeded in creating an efficient quantum-mechanical light-matter interface using a microscopic cavity. Within this cavity, a single photon is emitted and absorbed up to 10 times by an artificial atom. This opens up new prospects for quantum technology, report physicists at the University of Basel and Ruhr-University Bochum in the journal Nature.
Quantum physics describes photons as light particles. Achieving an interaction between a single photon and a single atom is a huge challenge due to the tiny...
A very special kind of light is emitted by tungsten diselenide layers. The reason for this has been unclear. Now an explanation has been found at TU Wien (Vienna)
It is an exotic phenomenon that nobody was able to explain for years: when energy is supplied to a thin layer of the material tungsten diselenide, it begins to...
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have explored the initial consequences of the interaction of light with molecules on the surface of nanoscopic aerosols.
The nanocosmos is constantly in motion. All natural processes are ultimately determined by the interplay between radiation and matter. Light strikes particles...
Particles that are mere nanometers in size are at the forefront of scientific research today. They come in many different shapes: rods, spheres, cubes, vesicles, S-shaped worms and even donut-like rings. What makes them worthy of scientific study is that, being so tiny, they exhibit quantum mechanical properties not possible with larger objects.
Researchers at the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE's Argonne National...
02.10.2019 | Event News
02.10.2019 | Event News
19.09.2019 | Event News
23.10.2019 | Materials Sciences
23.10.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
23.10.2019 | Medical Engineering