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AGU: Uncovering the secret world of the Plastisphere
Date:2/24/2014

HONOLULU Scientists are revealing how microbes living on floating pieces of plastic marine debris affect the ocean ecosystem, and the potential harm they pose to invertebrates, humans and other animals. New research being presented here today delves deeper into the largely unexplored world of the "Plastisphere" an ecological community of microbial organisms living on ocean plastic that was first discovered last year.

When scientists initially studied the Plastisphere, they found that at least 1,000 different types of microbes thrive on these tiny plastic islands, and that they might pose a risk to larger animals, including invertebrates and humans. The original studies also showed that the Plastisphere's inhabitants included bacteria known to cause diseases in animals and humans.

Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out why these potentially dangerous bacteria live on the Plastisphere, how they got there and how they are affecting the surrounding ocean.

New evidence suggests that "super-colonizers" form detectable clusters on the plastic in minutes. Other findings indicate that some types of harmful bacteria favor plastics more than others. And, scientists are exploring if fish or other ocean animals may be helping these pathogens thrive by ingesting the plastic. That could allow bacteria to acquire additional nutrients as they pass through the guts of the fish, said Tracy Mincer, an associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.

Revealing this information could help scientists better understand how much of a potential threat these harmful bacteria pose and the role the Plastisphere plays in the larger ocean ecosystem, including its potential to alter nutrients in the water. That information could also help reduce the impact of plastic pollution in the ocean for instance, if plastics manufacturers learned how to make their products so they degrade at an optimal rate, Mi
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Contact: Mary Catherine Adams
mcadams@agu.org
202-412-0889
American Geophysical Union
Source:Eurekalert  

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