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Human Pathogens Are Hitching a Ride on Floating Plastic

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James Wakibia/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire

This story was originally published by Hakai Magazine and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The plastics had only been submerged in the ocean off Falmouth, England, for a week, but in that time a thin layer of biofilm, a slimy mix of mucus and microbes, had already developed on their surfaces. Michiel Vos, a microbiologist at the University of Exeter in England, had sunk five different types of plastic as a test. He and his colleagues wanted to know which of the myriad microbes living in the ocean would glom on to these introduced materials.

Vos and his colleagues’ chief concern was pathogenic bacteria. To understand the extent to which plastic can be colonized by potentially deadly bacteria, the scientists injected wax moth larvae with the biofilm. After a week, four percent of the larvae died. But four weeks later, after Vos and his team had let the plastics stew in the ocean for a bit longer, they repeated the test. This time, 65 percent of the wax moths died.

The scientists analyzed the biofilm: the plastics were covered in bacteria, including some known to make us sick. They found pathogenic bacteria responsible for causing urinary tract, skin, and stomach infections, pneumonia,........

© Mother Jones


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