Scientists have discovered a wide range of bacteria and other micro-organisms proliferating in pieces of plastic that pollute the oceans in various places of the world, says a study published last week in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology.”
Macrobiotic communities are growing in strewn plastic and garbage in the sea, which have become a new ecological habitat for bacteria, scientists say. They named the places where there is accumulation of plastic “Plastisphere.”
An expedition that collected samples of dispersed plastic pieces wandering around in the sea-water claims to have discovered a million new species of plankton.
Using genetic sequencing techniques and electron microscopes, scientists have found at least a thousand different types of bacteria in plastic, plus many species of unicellular and multicellular organisms which have not yet been identified.
In addition, they discovered algae and bacteria that produce their own food, microscopic animals that feed on them, small predators, and even organisms that produce a symbiotic relationship with each other.
Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the largest independent non-profit research centers of this field in the US, claim to be concerned with the functions and biochemical activities of these micro-organisms performing in the oceans.
“We want to know exactly how they are acting and how they are changing the marine ecosystem. For example, how they are altering other microbes, how they affect larger organisms,” said Linda Amaral Zettler, one member of the research team.
“The organisms inhabiting the plastic pieces are different from those in the ocean, indicating that plastic debris is functioning as reefs for microbes,” said researcher Tracy Mincer, another scientist engaged in this project.
However, as garbage floats and travels in the sea-water, micro-organisms found a modern medium of colonizing new regions. Therefore, friendly microbes, pathogens and maybe threatening algae move together to new destinations without being clear what will be the consequences in the future.