Sunday 24 February 2019

Bacteria makes plastic form clumps in ocean

'Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh used water collected from the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the Firth of Forth to set up their experiments.' Stock photo
'Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh used water collected from the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the Firth of Forth to set up their experiments.' Stock photo

Laura Paterson

Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny particles of plastic together in the ocean to form larger masses, scientists have discovered.

During experiments in seawater, the micro and nano plastics joined with biopolymers made by bacteria to form larger clumps within minutes.

Scientists believe this could lead to the larger items being mistaken for food by marine mammals.

They also fear this could alter the flow of food from the surface to the seafloor, potentially leading to deep sea creatures being starved.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh used water collected from the Faroe-Shetland Channel and the Firth of Forth to set up their experiments.

Plastics were added to the seawater and then incubated in conditions simulating the ocean's surface.

Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together into lumps with bacteria, algae and other organic particles.

The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover large masses of biopolymers formed the bulk of these plastic agglomerates.

Team member Stephen Summers said: "This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world's oceans.

"This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world's biogeochemistry occurs.

"We found that the biopolymers envelope or engulf the nanoplastic particles, which caused the plastics to agglomerate into clumps."

Irish Independent

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