Plastic Pollution Harms Oxygen-producing Bacteria

ISLAMABAD (Pakistan Point News / Online - 28th May, 2019) In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Macquarie University in Australia have examined the effects that plastics have on a type of photosynthetic marine bacteria called Prochlorococcus."These tiny microorganisms are critical to the marine food web, contribute to carbon cycling, and are thought to be responsible for up to 10% of the total global oxygen production," says co-author Lisa Moore.

Up to 12.7 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, posing a risk to the nearly 200 marine species from mammals and birds to fish and invertebrates that may ingest it.In 2018, Medical news Today reported on research showing that humans also unwittingly consume microplastics and debated what the effect of this might be on our health.Recently, a report by the conservation organization Fauna & Flora International (FFI), who collaborated with two charities and the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom, examined the effects of plastic pollution on human mortality.

The report found that every 30 seconds, a person in the developing world dies as a consequence of pollution from mishandled waste.The problem of plastic pollution is getting worse, with projections suggesting that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the number of fish by weight.The Macquarie University team exposed two different strains ofProchlorococcus to chemicals that they had extracted from plastic grocery bags and PVC matting.

They found that this exposure significantly reduced the growth and function of the bacteria compared with the control bacteria.The researchers observed alterations in the expression of the bacteria's genes, meaning that the genes were not activating in the usual way to produce the required proteins.Most importantly, the researchers found that the bacteria that they exposed to the plastic chemicals produced lower levels of oxygen than the control bacteria.

Lead author Sasha Tetu explains the wider implications of her team's findings, saying, "Our data shows that plastic pollution may have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond the known effects on macroorganisms, such as seabirds and turtles.""If we truly want to understand the full impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment and find ways to mitigate it, we need to consider its impact on key microbial groups, including photosynthetic microbes."