bacteriën bacteria
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Pathogenic bacteria travel the waters on microplastics

In a recent study, evidence shows that the Vibrio spp. genus of bacteria can populate floating pieces of microplastics in the marine environment. Vibrio spp. is a well-known genus of bacteria containing pathogenic strains to humans (e.g. cholera) and animals alike. Plastic debris and microplastics have a low biodegradability making them persist in the environment and potential vectors for spreading pathogens. A group of researchers in Germany recently published their study in the journal Marine Environmental Research. The researchers collected samples from 39 stations in the North Sea and 5 in the Baltic Sea and their paper illustrates that:

  • It is the first study where scientists were able to clearly identify (through DNA sequencing) multiple Vibrio water strains including pathogenic species such as parahaemolyticus and V. cholerae
  • Almost all microplastic samples show weathering, cracks and pitting in the plastic and evidence of ‘plastisphere’ communities (bacterial colonies growing in a biofilm)
  • The most common types of microplastic material found drifting in the sea water were, polyethelene, followed by polypropylene and polystyrene – supporting prior investigations which depict high abundance of these plastics in the environment.

This study further reinforces the issue of plastic pollution and its effect on the quality of water and the marine environment. The fact that pathogenic strains of the Vibrio genus of bacteria are able to survive on microplastics is disconcerting. The study at hand focused only on Vibrio spp., but perhaps it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human pathogenic bacteria on floating plastics.