you're reading...


Microbe Mishap: Microplastic Pollution on the Coast of China

Source: Jiang, Peilin, et al. “Microplastic-Associated Bacterial Assemblages in the Intertidal Zone of the Yangtze Estuary.” Science of The Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.105.

Plastic Catastrophe

A picture of microplastics on the beach in Santa Monica, California. From: Cummins, Anna. “The Big Concern over Micro-Plastics.” Earth Love, 5 Gyres, 17 Oct. 2017, www.yourzenmama.com/new-blog/2017/11/5/earth-love-the-big-concern-over-micro-plastics-by-anna-cummins-5-gyres.

According to Science, 4-12 million tons of plastic is added to the ocean per year. This is a massive world problem because plastic pollution is dangerous for our marine systems in many ways. For example, it is not biodegradable and remains in the ocean indefinitely. Additionally, small particles that float on the top of the water look like a cheap lunch for the aquatic animals that end up on our plates. Microplastics, plastic particles that are less than 8mm in size, can be especially damaging because they are so easily ingested by animals and can easily carry microbes from one environment to the next

Coastal zones are especially important for plastic pollution studies because they represent a transition between human input and the open ocean. Two of the largest coastal collection sites for marine plastics are estuaries, the aquatic area where a river meets the ocean, and coastal intertidal zones, the area on a beach that is covered by water only at high tide. China is the most populous country in the world, so microplastic pollution in their coastal waters affects large populations of both marine animals and humans.

The Yangtze River flowing through Shanghai, China’s largest city. From:Campderrós-i-Canas, Joan. “Shanghai View from SWFC.” Flickr, 19 Feb. 2012, www.flickr.com/photos/joanet/6905719207.

These coastal habitats are a prime spot for studying how plastic input affects natural microbial populations. The microbes found on the plastics in these habitats can tell us about the plastic pollution in the water and vice versa. There is both good news and bad news when considering how microbes and their microplastic homes affect each other. The bad news is that microplastics are small enough that currents can easily move them, spreading their attached microbes to new environments. The good news, however, is that some bacteria digest the carbon from plastic, or change plastic’s chemical structure, as part of their metabolism. Both of these processes can affect how long the microplastics last in nature, as well as their toxicity.

So, What’s Up with the Microbes?

This study set out to collect microbes from microplastic samples at three intertidal sites in the Yangtze River Estuary in Shanghai, China: Xiangshan Bay, Chongming Island, and Lvsi Port. Their goal was to better understand what plastics types and microbes were at each site. In order to figure out what plastic types each sample contained, they used an instrument that scans samples with infrared light. Then, DNA was removed from the samples and computer programming was used to figure out what microbes were there.

A map of the Yangtze River, labelled with an arrow, and the three sampling sites, outlined with a red box. From: Google Maps.

The two sites that were least affected by fresh water input, Xiangshan Bay and Lvsi Port, had similar microbes. Chongming Island, a site in the middle of the estuary, had a unique population of microbes. The pattern of what plastic type was found where did not match the pattern of where the microbes were found. Instead, the microbes were more associated with their environment. This means that microbes may attach to microplastics and move elsewhere, regardless of the type of plastic. Additionally, in every sample, bacteria that can eat plastic or change its chemical makeup were found. All three sites had bacteria that cause fish disease and at Xiangshan Bay, the most urban site, bacteria that cause human diseases in the gut were found.

The similarity of microbes at the three different sites. Each site is represented by a different color. The closer the points are, the more related the microbes are. From: Jiang, Peilin, et al. “Microplastic-Associated Bacterial Assemblages in the Intertidal Zone of the Yangtze Estuary.” Science of The Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.201

Putting it all Together

Urban centers have a higher than average influx of plastic to the ocean. Each of these three urban locations in China have different environments that may be affecting microbe or plastic type, for example, Chongming Island has the highest influx of freshwater. Additionally, the discovery of disease-causing bacteria was alarming, as they could be dispersed or ingested by marine creatures and transferred up the food chain, causing issues for fish farming, and human health. Understanding dispersal of plastic types and their associated microbes can help us better understand marine pollution, as well as ways to decrease the negative effects of plastic toxicity and microbes that cause disease.


No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com