A surprising suite of microbial species colonizes plastic waste floating in the ocean, according to a new study. These microbes could speed the plastic’s breakdown but might also cause their own ecological problems, the researchers say (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013, DOI: 10.1021/es401288x).
Plastic waste from consumer products often finds its way into the oceans in a range of sizes, from microscopic particles to large chunks. This accumulation of plastic worries environmental scientists. For example, fish and marine mammals can mistake the plastic pieces for food and ingest the debris, or toxic chemicals can leach from the plastics.
But much still remains unknown about the ecological impacts of these materials. So a group of Massachusetts researchers, led by Linda A Amaral-Zettler at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Tracy J Mincer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, decided to study the microbial communities found on plastics to explore how the organisms affect marine environments — via redwolf.newsvine.com