Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Pathogenic bacteria drifting on tiny plastic particles to North Seas

AWI scientists have now proven that a group of such bacteria known as ‘vibrios’ can survive on microplastic particles. In the future, they want to investigate in greater detail the role of these particles on the accumulation and possible distribution of these bacteria.

Dr. Gunnar Gerdts, microbiologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) on Heligoland explains. In moderate summers, the bacteria are only sporadically evident in sea water, but can proliferate explosively during heat waves if water temperatures rise above 22 degree Celsius. Especially in nearshore areas of the Baltic Sea, such heatwaves have in the past repeatedly been associated with cases of disease or death caused by the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus.

Gerdts and his team have taken samples from the sea and examined whether the bacteria benefit from a new habitat known as the plastisphere. Bacteria, fungi and microalgae growing in a mucous layer live in biofilms on the surface of plastic particles. They are known, for example, as the basis for growth on ships' hulls. The composition of these biofilms varies depending on the condition of the surface and the living organisms in the surrounding water. Gene sequencing suggested that’ vibrios’ may also be part of this ecosystem.

For further details see:

Inga V. Kirstein, Sidika Kirmizi, Antje Wichels, Alexa Garin-Fernandez, Rene Erler, Martin Löder, Gunnar Gerdts. Dangerous hitchhikers? Evidence for potentially pathogenic Vibrio spp. on microplastic particles. Marine Environmental Research, 2016; 120: 1 DOI: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2016.07.004

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle