Microplastics can carry pathogens to new points in the food chain

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Critical questions remain about microplastics and possible threats to food production and safety, according to a new study published in Trends in Microbiology.

Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in diameter. They can be created when larger plastic products break down, such as plastic bottles, clothing fibers, and cigarette filters. They are also intentionally added to some cosmetics and personal hygiene products.

In a press release on the new research from the University of Exeter, the authors cited a study which found high concentrations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on microplastics — 100 times to 5,000 times higher than in surrounding seawater.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Larger plastic products can break down into microplastics in the ocean
2. Communities of pathogens and other microbes form on the surface of microplastics
3. Oysters ingesting microplastics covered in pathogens
4. Transfer of pathogens from microplastics to oysters may kill bivalves or pass to humans

VOICEOVER (in English):
"Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in diameter. They can be created when larger plastic products break down, such as plastic bottles, clothing fibers, and cigarette filters."

"They are also intentionally added to some cosmetics and personal hygiene products."

"Human and animal pathogens, such as bacteria, can colonize microplastics, forming slimy buildups called biofilms."

"In a press release on the new research from the University of Exeter, the authors cited a study which found high concentrations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on microplastics — 100 times to 5,000 times higher than in surrounding seawater."

Microplastics can transport these pathogens to new parts of the ocean. The authors of the study expressed particular concern about bivalves such as oysters and mussels.

"These filter-feeders can take in microplastics from the seawater, and diseases from pathogens found on microplastics have been known to kill these molluscs."

"This transfer of pathogens from the microplastics to bivalves could threaten aquaculture, which is expected to play an important role in feeding the world's growing population."

"Humans who come into contact with seafood may also be exposed to these pathogens."

SOURCES: Trends in Microbiology, University of California San Diego, WWF, National Center for Biotechnology Information, University of Exeter, Proceedings B
https://www.cell.com/trends/microbiology/fulltext/S0966-842X(20)30190-6?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0966842X20301906%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/microplastics-million-times-more-abundant-ocean-previously-thought-scripps-study-suggests
https://plasticsmartcities.org/blogs/media/wwf-and-un-habitat-partner-in-their-fight-to-end-plastic-pollution
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4802224/
https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_809561_en.html
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rspb.2018.1203