Microplastics: The Silent Killer

May 20, 2021

A researcher from Hong Kong Polytechnic Universitypresented a concept at the 2021 Microbiology Society Conference this spring that could greatly impact the way microplastic pollution is removed from the ocean.

Sylvia Yang Liu’s research team developed a protocol thatuses a substance called bacterial biofilms, which is created by microorganisms, to catch microplastics as they enter the ocean.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are miniscule, yet have an enormous impact on marine life. National Geographic explained that many marine animals consume these plastics, including marine life, as small as plankton. The microplastic being consumed can contain harmful chemicals.

While a “few tiny plastic particles” on the ocean floor may not seem so bad, it may be a lot worse than many people know. According to Harvard.edu, there are approximately 14 million tons of microplastic scattered across the ocean floor.

What is on the floor of the ocean may not seem like it has anything to do with you, or impacts you at all. However, in an article by the Washington Post, researchers said each time you take a drink of water, or eat anything, you are likely unknowingly ingesting microplastic particles.

“Alarmingly, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics,” said National Geographic.Studies are being conducted to determine the relationship between microplastics and health-related complications.

According to TheGuardian.com, the biofilms developed by Liu and her team would act as a sticky net and catch the microplastics as they enter the ocean. The plastic that is collected by the bacterial biofilms could then be recovered and recycled far more easily than they are now.

The species of bacteria used in the trial experiment is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which, according to sciencedirect.com, is found commonly in underwater- and soil-based ecosystems. Choosing a common bacterium made the approach more universal, as scientists will likely not have to go through the process of introducing a new bacterium to an environment.

National Geographic says that since the 1950s, the number of plastics produced has steadily increased. Earthday.org says 8 million tons of plastic are thrown in the ocean each year, and 250,000 tons of that is microplastics.

According to Earthday, if we do not do something about microplastics and other plastics in the ocean, scientists and other researchers believe that there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the ocean by the year 2050.

This story was originally published in The Connersville Clarion.

Microplastics: The Silent Killer