DEC 05, 2019 8:24 AM PST

Scientists Get a Closer Look at "The Plastisphere"

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Plastic litter is a global problem, and some of the tiniest culprits are not visible to the naked eye. These microplastics have infiltrated the world's ocean. Minute plastic pieces are ingested by aquatic species, leading to their progression up the food chain and potentially ending up on your dinner plate.

In addition to causing digestive issues, starvation, and possibly death in marine species, microplastics play host to bacteria and other microbes. Researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole Massachusetts refer to this biofilm as "The Plastisphere." According to an article from MBL, the Plastisphere impacts microplastics, such as causing them to sink or float, decompose, or make the microplastic smell or taste like food to other organisms.

While little was known about the Plastisphere, MBL researchers used a new microscopy method to examine samples of these micro-communities taken from various ocean sites. The result of their work was published last week in Molecular Ecology Resources and is summarized in the video below.

Jessica Mark Welch and MBL colleagues developed the improved microscopy method, which allowed the team to actually see the microbes' arrangement on the microplastics. They customized an existing imaging technology called CLASI-FISH—Combinatorial Labeling and Spectral Imaging Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization. Water samples were taken from the North Atlantic Ocean, the tropical Atlantic Ocean, and the Wadden Sea. The researchers observed diatoms and bacteria in all samples and Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, and Bacteriodetes were heavily present in each.

In the article from the laboratory, researcher and MBL Fellow Linda Amaral-Zettler stated, "We now have a toolkit that enables us to understand the spatial structure of the Plastisphere, and, combined with other methods, a better future way to understand [its] major microbial players, what they are doing, and their impact on the fate of plastic litter in the ocean." According to the research paper, the team considers this technique appropriate to continue investigating the Plastisphere and interactions between microbes.

Sources: Marine Biological Laboratory, Molecular Ecology Resources
 

About the Author
BS Biology
Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
JUN 18, 2022
Technology
Time crystals bend, don't break, rules of quantum physics
JUN 18, 2022
Time crystals bend, don't break, rules of quantum physics
Let’s face it, bending the rules is fun, even as adults. But the great thing about being a scientist is that you l ...
JUL 01, 2022
Technology
Robotic Fish for Cleaning up Microplastics
JUL 01, 2022
Robotic Fish for Cleaning up Microplastics
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, usually about 5mm or less in size. They often develop over time as plastic bre ...
JUL 08, 2022
Space & Astronomy
The Future of Lunar Exploration Might Lie Underneath its Surface
JUL 08, 2022
The Future of Lunar Exploration Might Lie Underneath its Surface
Approximately 10 years ago caves were discovered to exist below the surface of the Moon! These lunar caves can be up to ...
JUL 12, 2022
Technology
Smart textiles detect, sense posture and motion
JUL 12, 2022
Smart textiles detect, sense posture and motion
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab have created a novel fabrication process to pro ...
AUG 03, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Moon lava pits might be toasty environments for future astronauts
AUG 03, 2022
Moon lava pits might be toasty environments for future astronauts
In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a collaborative research team from the University of Califo ...
AUG 06, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Today in Science History: Most Complete Skeletal Remains of Neanderthal Still Tell a Story Today
AUG 06, 2022
Today in Science History: Most Complete Skeletal Remains of Neanderthal Still Tell a Story Today
114 years ago, the first and only nearly complete Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) skeleton was found in a cave in Fr ...
Loading Comments...