The plastic Trojan horse: Biofilms increase microplastic uptake in marine filter feeders impacting microbial transfer and organism health

Monica Fabra, Joy Watts, Michelle Hale, Fay Couceiro, Joanne Preston*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Microplastic pollution has become a major source of concern, with a large body of literature surrounding the impacts of microplastic ingestion by biota. However, many of these studies utilise virgin microbeads, which are not reflective of environmental microplastics that are rapidly colonised with microbial communities (plastisphere) in marine ecosystems. It is a concern therefore that current evidence of the impacts of microplastics on biota are unrepresentative of the environmental microplastic pollution. In this study, uptake and bioaccumulation of both virgin and Escherichia coli coated microplastics, by European native oysters (Ostrea edulis) were compared, and the physiological responses of oysters to the exposure were investigated. The uptake of E. coli coated microplastics was found to be significantly higher than the uptake of virgin microplastics, with average concentrations of 42.3 ± 23.5 no. g-1 and 11.4 ± 0.6 no. g-1 microbeads found in oysters exposed to coated and virgin microplastics, respectively. This suggests that environmental microplastic uptake into the marine trophic web by benthic filter feeders may be greater than previously thought. The oxygen consumption and respiration rate of oysters exposed to E. coli coated microplastics increased significantly over time, whilst virgin microplastics did not produce any measurable significant physiological responses. However, less than 0.5% of the total amount of administered microbeads were retained by all oysters, suggesting a limited residence time within the organisms. Although microplastics did not bioaccumulate in oyster tissues in the short-term, microorganisms assimilated by the ingestion of coated microplastics may be transferred to higher trophic levels. This poses a risk, not only for wildlife, but also for food safety and human health. The capacity to carry pathogens and expose a wide range of organisms to them means microplastics may have an important role as vectors for disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article number149217
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date21 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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