Ocean plastic debris found supporting diverse microbe colonies

By on July 10, 2013
Suctorian ciliate covered with symbiotic bacteria, along with diatoms, and filaments on weathered and cracked microplastic debris. (Credit: Erik Zettler, Sea Education Association)

Prolific small flecks of plastic floating in the ocean have been found to harbor diverse colonies of microorganisms, according to a press release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

A team of researchers analyzed the bits of plastic from the North Atlantic Ocean, finding some 1000 types of bacterial cells living on them. Whole ecosystems of microbes thrive on the plastic including predators and prey, plants and algae.

The researchers believe these microbes could be degrading the plastic, which otherwise will never fully degrade in the ocean. During their analysis, the researchers found microscopic pits and cracks in the plastic, presumably from microbial residents.

Image: Suctorian ciliate covered with symbiotic bacteria, along with diatoms, and filaments on weathered and cracked microplastic debris. (Credit: Erik Zettler, Sea Education Association)

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