Evidence for selective bacterial community structuring on microplastics

Martin Ogonowski, Asa Motiei, Karolina Ininbergs, Eva Hell, Zandra Gerdes, Klas I. Udekwu, Zoltan Bacsik, Elena Gorokhova
  • Environmental Microbiology, April 2018, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.14120

Biofilms on microplastics differ from those on natural substrates

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

What is it about?

Recently, much attention has been focused on microplastics as emerging environmental contaminants. Most of bioassays testing the effects of microplastics involved experiments with animals, whereas we asked a simple question whether bacterial communities colonizing microplastic surfaces differ from those on natural substrates.

Why is it important?

Biofilms are important in aquatic life, mediating interactions between consumers and their food, breakdown of organic material, and biogeochemical cycles. Therefore, fate of microplastics in the food webs and in the environment depends on the microorganisms colonizing these particles. For example, some microorganisms can facilitate degradation of synthetic polymers, and it was expected that such organisms would preferentially colonize the plastic materials (polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene) but not the natural substrates, such as cellulose or clay.


Elena Gorokhova
Stockholm University

In a way, our findings were expected, but one of the most interesting outcomes is that across the substrates, both natural and man-made, bacterial diversity can be predicted by the substrate hydrophobicity alone. Our future research will focus more on the relationships between various physical properties of polymers and microbial community structure and functions in environmental settings.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Martin Ogonowski and Elena Gorokhova