13 Nov 2013:
Plastic Debris in Ocean
Has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms
The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere," includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology
. Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said
. The organisms on the plastic debris were different from the microbial communities living on driftwood, feathers, and other natural items floating in the ocean, and also different from the assemblage of microbes living in open water, the researchers report.
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
Accepting entries through June 15, 2015.
Yale Environment 360
articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia
, the online educational network. Visit the site.
Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
A three-part series Tainted Harvest
looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup. Read the series.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video, chronicles a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant. It was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
. © Google & TerraMetrics.
, winner of the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, documents the work of African researchers monitoring wildlife in Uganda's remote Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Watch the video.