Dangerous pathogens 'travel' on microplastics and easily enter the ocean

A study published in Scientific Reports is the first evidence that land-based pathogens

microplastics can end up in the ocean. The authors found that microplastics can increase the concentration of disease-causing pathogens in plastic-polluted areas of the ocean.

Microplastics with pathogens

The authors studied the pathogens of Toxoplasma gondii,Cryptosporidium (Crypto) and Giardia - they can infect both humans and animals. These pathogens have been labeled by the World Health Organization as underestimated causes of diseases that are caused by shellfish consumption. They are found throughout the ocean.

T.gondii, a parasite found only in cat feces, has infected many ocean species with toxoplasmosis. It has also led to the death of sea otters and endangered species, including Hector's dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals. In humans, toxoplasmosis can cause chronic disease, as well as developmental and reproductive disorders.

For the study, the authors conducted laboratoryexperiments to see if their chosen pathogens can bind to plastics in seawater. They used two different types of microplastics: polyethylene microbeads and polyester microfibers. Microbeads are often found in cosmetics such as exfoliators and cleansers, while microfibers are found in clothing and fishing nets.

Scientists have discovered that sticks to microfibersmore parasites than microbeads, however both types of plastic can carry terrestrial pathogens. It is noted that fine particles of microfibers are common in Californian waters and have already been found in shellfish.

The authors said the plastic helps pathogens enter marine life more easily, depending on whether it sinks or swims.

Microplastics floating on a surface canmove, spreading pathogens over long distances. Plastics that sink help pathogens to concentrate in the benthic environment near the seafloor. It is there that animals live that filter sea water in order to eat. These are zooplankton, clams, mussels, oysters, abalone and others. Because of this, they are more likely to ingest the plastic along with the pathogen.

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