Plastic pollution in the oceans is harming bacteria that create 10% of the oxygen we need to breathe, study finds
- Researchers took fragments of a thin plastic carrier bag and PVC matting
- Experts from Macquarie University left them in artificial seawater for five days
- Bacteria called Prochlorococcus were then exposed to the artificial seawater
- By Victoria Allen Science Correspondent For The Daily Mail
Plastic pollution in oceans could be harming the bacteria to help us breathe.
A tenth of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one type of ocean bacteria, through photosynthesis
But a study has found chemicals that leach from plastic waste can stop the bacteria producing oxygen and harm its growth.
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Plastic pollution in oceans could be harming the bacteria (pictured) humans need to help us breathe. Except for oxygen we breathe comes from just one type of ocean bacteria, through photosynthesis
Scientists took fragments of a thin plastic carrier bag and PVC matting, which were left in artificial seawater for five days.
When their chemicals had chlorinated, the bacteria called Prochlorococcus were exposed to the 'seawater', which changed their growth pattern and triggered genes linked to stress.
The findings raise significant concerns, with plastic in the ocean set to outweigh fish by 2050 and the bacteria it affects so vital to the air we need to survive.
Dr Lisa Moore, a co-author of the study from Macquarie University in Australia, said: 'These tiny micro-organisms are critical to the marine food web, contribute to carbon cycling and are thought to be responsible for up to 10 per cent of the total global oxygen production.
'So one in every 10 breaths of oxygen you breathe is thanks to these little guys, yet almost noth ing is known about how marine bacteria, such as Prochlorococcus, respond to human pollutants. '
Lead author Dr Sasha Tetu, from the same university, said:' Our data shows that plastic pollution may have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond the known effects on macro-organisms, such as seabirds and turtles. 'Much of the research on ocean pollution focuses on fish and other marine life swallowing or becoming tangled in plastic. However, the material also threatens the ocean's smallest inhabitants.
A study has found chemicals that leach from plastic waste (pictured) can stop the bacteria producing oxygen and harm its growth. The findings raise significant concerns, with plastic in the ocean set to outweigh fish at 2050 [ItiscyanobacterialikeProchlorococcuswhicharebelievedtohavefirstmadeEarthhabitableforanimalandhumanlifebyusingphotosynthesistoturnenergyfromthesunandwaterintobreathableoxygen
Now there are around three octillion tiny green Prochlorococcus bacteria living in the world's oceans. To understand that huge figure, an octillion has 27 zeros on the end, while a million has six zeros and a billion has nine.
To see if plastic might affect the bacteria, researchers exposed cells from two strains found at different depths of the ocean to the chemicals leached from plastic bags and PVC
PVC had the worst effect, completely stopping oxygen production in one of the strains after 24 hours.
Chemicals from the gray plastic grocery bags started reducing oxygen production in both strains after 24 hours
Both chemicals stopped growing properly, and meant they did not photosynthesise as well, while changing the activity of their genes.
The study found in the journal Communications Biology, suggests that PVC may be most harmful as it contains' plasticisers' to make the material more flexible, as well as the chemicals to keep it clean and regulate its temperature.
Dr Tetu said: 'Now we'd like to explore if plastic pollution is the same impact on these microbes in the ocean. '
HOW DO MICROPLASTICS GET INTO THE OCEANS FROM RIVERS?
Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought, according to scientists looking at pollution in rivers.
Waterways in Greater Manchester are now so heavily contaminated by microplastics that are found in every sample – including even the smallest streams.
This pollution is a major contributor to contamination in the oceans, researchers found as part of the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world
This debris – including microbeads and microfibers – are toxic to ecosystems.
Scientists tested 40 sites around Manchester and found every waterway contained these small toxic particles
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibers and plastic fragments.
It has long been known they are river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.
However, although around 90 per cent of microplastic contamination in the ocean is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their movements. 19659010] Most rivers examined had around 517,000 plastic particles per square meter, according to researchers from the University of Manchester who carried out the detailed study.
Following a period of major flooding, the researchers re-sampled at all of the sites.
They found levels of contamination had fallen to the majority of them, and the flooding had removed about 70 per cent of the microplastics stored on the river beds.
This demonstrates that flood events can transfer large quantities of microplastics from urban river to the oceans.