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Microbial communities on plastic polymers in the Mediterranean Sea
Vaksmaa, A.; Knittel, K.; Abdala Asbun, A.; Goudriaan, M.; Ellrott, A.; Witte, H.J.; Vollmer, I.; Meirer, F.; Lott, C.; Weber, M.; Engelmann, J.C.; Niemann, H. (2021). Microbial communities on plastic polymers in the Mediterranean Sea. Front. Microbiol. 12: 673553.
In: Frontiers in Microbiology. Frontiers Media: Lausanne. ISSN 1664-302X; e-ISSN 1664-302X, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

Author keywords
    plastic polymer; biofilms; microbial community; hydrocarbon degrading bacteria; marine plastic debris

Authors  Top 
  • Vaksmaa, A., more
  • Knittel, K.
  • Abdala Asbun, A., more
  • Goudriaan, M.
  • Ellrott, A.
  • Witte, H.J., more
  • Vollmer, I.
  • Meirer, F.
  • Lott, C.
  • Weber, M.
  • Engelmann, J.C., more
  • Niemann, H., more

    Plastic particles in the ocean are typically covered with microbial biofilms, but it remains unclear whether distinct microbial communities colonize different polymer types. In this study, we analyzed microbial communities forming biofilms on floating microplastics in a bay of the island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea. Raman spectroscopy revealed that the plastic particles mainly comprised polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS) of which polyethylene and polypropylene particles were typically brittle and featured cracks. Fluorescence in situ hybridization and imaging by high-resolution microscopy revealed dense microbial biofilms on the polymer surfaces. Amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene showed that the bacterial communities on all plastic types consisted mainly of the orders Flavobacteriales, Rhodobacterales, Cytophagales, Rickettsiales, Alteromonadales, Chitinophagales, and Oceanospirillales. We found significant differences in the biofilm community composition on PE compared with PP and PS (on OTU and order level), which shows that different microbial communities colonize specific polymer types. Furthermore, the sequencing data also revealed a higher relative abundance of archaeal sequences on PS in comparison with PE or PP. We furthermore found a high occurrence, up to 17% of all sequences, of different hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria on all investigated plastic types. However, their functioning in the plastic-associated biofilm and potential role in plastic degradation needs further assessment.

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