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Discovery of the 'Plastisphere:' New marine ecological community harboring disease-causing microbes

Date:
July 10, 2013
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
The masses of plastic debris that float over large areas of the world's oceans have become new ecological communities that scientists have named the "Plastisphere." These novel habitats in the North Atlantic Ocean may harbor potential disease-causing microbes.

The masses of plastic debris that float over large areas of the world's oceans have become new ecological communities that scientists have named the "Plastisphere."
Credit: JAY / Fotolia

The masses of plastic debris that float over large areas of the world's oceans have become new ecological communities that scientists have named the "Plastisphere." Their report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests that these novel habitats in the North Atlantic Ocean may harbor potential disease-causing microbes.

Erik Zettler of the Sea Education Association, Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory explain that plastic has become the No. 1 form of ocean debris, causing serious concerns about its impact on the health of ocean communities. The damaging effects that plastic in the oceans have on fish, birds and other seafaring animals have previously been described in detail by other researchers. But scientists had yet to explore what plastic does to some of the smallest ocean inhabitants. Zettler, Mincer and Amaral-Zettler decided to find out.

They discovered that tiny organisms from algae to bacteria thrive on plastic debris, transforming it into rich "microbial reefs" that are distinct from communities in surrounding water. Though some inhabitants may be degrading the plastic, it still provides a relatively stable home for microbes. Apparently a good home for its little residents, plastic debris might pose a health risk for invertebrates, fish or possibly humans. The Plastisphere harbors a group of bacteria called Vibrio. Some Vibrio species can cause illnesses, such as cholera, when they come in contact with humans.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Erik R. Zettler, Tracy J. Mincer, Linda A. Amaral-Zettler. Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013; 130619162220002 DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Discovery of the 'Plastisphere:' New marine ecological community harboring disease-causing microbes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130710114449.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2013, July 10). Discovery of the 'Plastisphere:' New marine ecological community harboring disease-causing microbes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130710114449.htm
American Chemical Society. "Discovery of the 'Plastisphere:' New marine ecological community harboring disease-causing microbes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130710114449.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

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June 27, 2013 Scientists have discovered a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans -- a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that ... read more
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