JOURNAL ARTICLE

Rapid bacterial colonization of low-density polyethylene microplastics in coastal sediment microcosms

Jesse P Harrison, Michaela Schratzberger, Melanie Sapp, A Mark Osborn
BMC Microbiology 2014 September 23, 14: 232
25245856

BACKGROUND: Synthetic microplastics (≤5-mm fragments) are emerging environmental contaminants that have been found to accumulate within coastal marine sediments worldwide. The ecological impacts and fate of microplastic debris are only beginning to be revealed, with previous research into these topics having primarily focused on higher organisms and/or pelagic environments. Despite recent research into plastic-associated microorganisms in seawater, the microbial colonization of microplastics in benthic habitats has not been studied. Therefore, we employed a 14-day microcosm experiment to investigate bacterial colonization of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) microplastics within three types of coastal marine sediment from Spurn Point, Humber Estuary, U.K.

RESULTS: Bacterial attachment onto LDPE within sediments was demonstrated by scanning electron microscopy and catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridisation (CARD-FISH). Log-fold increases in the abundance of 16S rRNA genes from LDPE-associated bacteria occurred within 7 days with 16S rRNA gene numbers on LDPE surfaces differing significantly across sediment types, as shown by quantitative PCR. Terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis demonstrated rapid selection of LDPE-associated bacterial assemblages whose structure and composition differed significantly from those in surrounding sediments. Additionally, T-RFLP analysis revealed successional convergence of the LDPE-associated communities from the different sediments over the 14-day experiment. Sequencing of cloned 16S rRNA genes demonstrated that these communities were dominated after 14 days by the genera Arcobacter and Colwellia (totalling 84-93% of sequences). Attachment by Colwellia spp. onto LDPE within sediments was confirmed by CARD-FISH.

CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate that bacteria within coastal marine sediments can rapidly colonize LDPE microplastics, with evidence for the successional formation of plastisphere-specific bacterial assemblages. Although the taxonomic compositions of these assemblages are likely to differ between marine sediments and the water column, both Arcobacter and Colwellia spp. have previously been affiliated with the degradation of hydrocarbon contaminants within low-temperature marine environments. Since hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria have also been discovered on plastic fragments in seawater, our data suggest that recruitment of hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria on microplastics is likely to represent a shared feature between both benthic and pelagic marine habitats.

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