Data_Sheet_1_Solving a Sticky Situation: Microplastic Analysis of Lipid-Rich Tissue.docx
Given current concerns regarding the extent of microplastic contamination in the environment, routine monitoring for microplastics in biological tissues is becoming increasingly common place. However, complex sample matrices, such as lipid-rich tissues, require multiple pre-treatment steps which may lead to increased sample processing time and costs, and a reduction in microplastic recovery rates thereby hindering monitoring efforts. Lipid-rich (fat) tissues often pose difficulties for traditional potassium hydroxide (KOH) digestion methods due to saponification. This reaction produces a suspension of glycerol and fatty acids (soaps), which may entrap microplastics inhibiting their recovery and clog filters thus reducing the efficiency of the filtration or inhibiting it altogether. In this study, the incorporation of 100% ethanol (EtOH) to existing KOH digestion methods was found to completely redissolve the viscous saponified gel formed in these reactions, with a digestion efficiency greater than 97% for all treated lipid-rich tissue samples. Recovery of spiked polyethylene and polystyrene fragments, and rayon and polyester fibers, ranged from 93% to 100%. The addition of EtOH did not induce physical or chemical degradation on these polymers. The inclusion of an ad hoc decision-making tool within the digestion workflow reduced pre-processing time for samples and allowed for solid saponified samples to be completely redissolved. This validated workflow facilitates high through-put sampling of biota, by enabling lipid-rich tissues to be filtered with a high degree of efficiency thereby successfully separating microplastics from their gelatinous matrix.