Menu

Giant Plankton May Help Move Plastic Pollution to Sea Floor

Researchers show that pinkie-size marine organisms can ingest and poop out microplastics, potentially transporting them to the depths.

Aug 16, 2017
Bob Grant

The inner mucus filter of a giant larvacean, a member of the genus Bathochordaeus© 2017 MBARIPlastic pollution has emerged as a real threat to Earth’s ecosystems, especially in the ocean. But microscopic bits of plastic that swirl near the surface may have a route to deeper layers. Giant larvaceans, members of the marine zooplankton that swim in the upper layers of ocean waters worldwide, may be capable of ingesting microplastic pollution and transporting it to deeper parts of the sea, according to researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

“We’re really at the tip of the iceberg in understanding really where these plastics are winding up,” study coauthor and MBARI researcher Kakani Katija tells The Verge.

Katija and her colleagues performed experiments in which they fed plastic particles smaller than sand grains to the giant larvacean Bathochordaeus stygius, a frequent visitor of Monterey Bay. B. stygius, like other giant larvaceans, constructs massive nests made of mucus, which they use to filter about 11 gallons of sea water per hour. When the MBARI team members fed fluorescent microplastic bits to 25 larvaceans, they found that the majority of the planktonic organisms ingested the particles and pooped them out within 12 hours. They published their findings yesterday (August 16) in Science Advances.

When giant larvaceans excrete microplastics or when they shed their mucus feeding nets, which also trapped the particles, both sink. The authors suspect the waste may be consumed by deep sea-dwelling organisms, providing a route for the pollutants to enter new ecosystems.

“Plastics are sometimes seen as a sea surface issue, and more and more we’re seeing that’s not necessarily true,” Katija tells Science News.

Although the researchers admit that the larvaceans typically swim at depths lower than those at which microplastics float, their findings map a potential route for transfer of the pollutants to new depths. “We are finding pieces of microplastic in deep sea animals and in sea floor sediments,” Anela Choy, Katija’s MBARI colleague and a coauthor on the paper, tells Wired. “We often think of it as just a surface pollution problem, but there are many mechanisms that can transport the [plastic] pollution down from the surface.”

February 2019

Big Storms Brewing

Can forests weather more major hurricanes?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced that its QXDx AutoDG ddPCR System, which uses Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR technology, and the QXDx BCR-ABL %IS Kit are the industry’s first digital PCR products to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Used together, Bio-Rad’s system and kit can precisely and reproducibly monitor molecular response to treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today showcases new automation features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer during the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening 2019 International Conference and Exhibition (SLAS) in Washington, D.C., February 2–6. These capabilities enable the ZE5 to be used for high-throughput flow cytometry in biomarker discovery and phenotypic screening.
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Researchers to benefit from an innovative software-connected pipetting system, bringing improved reproducibility and traceability of experiments to life-science laboratories.
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) will showcase advanced 3D cell culture technologies and workflow solutions for spheroids, organoids, tissue models, and applications including ADME/toxicology at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference, Feb. 2-6 in Washington, D.C.