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
  • 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
MAY 17, 2020
Plants & Animals
Male Garter Snakes Trick Others to Improve Own Mating Success
MAY 17, 2020
Male Garter Snakes Trick Others to Improve Own Mating Success
After spending several months in hibernation during the winter, male garter snakes emerge from the underground where the ...
MAY 23, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Are Australia's caves growing?
MAY 23, 2020
Are Australia's caves growing?
Have you ever heard of a speleothem? Even if you haven’t you’ve probably heard of a stalactite or a stalagmi ...
JUN 28, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
JUN 28, 2020
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
Scientists used a fish called the inland silverside, Menidia beryllina, to show that even small amounts of chemicals tha ...
JUL 18, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Agrochemicals increase the transmission of schistosomiasis
JUL 18, 2020
Agrochemicals increase the transmission of schistosomiasis
Breaking news reports that agrochemicals that pollute our waters also increase the transmission of the parasite that cau ...
JUL 28, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Lightning kills large trees in tropical forests, reducing carbon storage
JUL 28, 2020
Lightning kills large trees in tropical forests, reducing carbon storage
We often only think of the impact of lightning on how it relates to humans, but new research from the Smithsonian Tropic ...
AUG 11, 2020
Microbiology
A New Microbe is Discovered in an 'Unnatural' Environment
AUG 11, 2020
A New Microbe is Discovered in an 'Unnatural' Environment
While we can exert a degree of control over our surroundings, we still share the world and our bodies with microbes.
Loading Comments...