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posted on 16.06.2021, 05:49 authored by Annika Vaksmaa, Katrin Knittel, Alejandro Abdala Asbun, Maaike Goudriaan, Andreas Ellrott, Harry J. Witte, Ina Vollmer, Florian Meirer, Christian Lott, Miriam Weber, Julia C. Engelmann, Helge Niemann

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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