Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

R/E-24-Sosa

Functional and Taxonomic Diversity of Microbial Communities in Microplastic Particles from the Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

Feng Chen

Start/End Year: 

2018 to 2020

Institution: 

Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University System of Maryland

Co-Principal investigator: 

Fellow: Ana Sosa

Strategic focus area: 

Healthy coastal ecosystems

Description: 

Microbial biofilms are formed for protection from grazing, the mitigation of competition between species, the facilitation of gene transfer and the overall increase of the possibilities of survival. Biofilm formation on plastic is no exception, and microplastics provide further advantages for microbes as these particles can subsist for decades in aquatic environments. Microplastics are polymer particles that are smaller than 5 mm and their existence and prevalence in aquatic environment has been the focus of many studies in the last few years. Microbial communities that form biofilms on particles can potentially lead to the transport of pathogenic and harmful bloom forming species, as well as have an impact on global biogeochemical cycles. Polymer particles have been previously found in the Chesapeake Bay, concentrating in zones with high population densities. Metagenomic analysis of the microbial communities on particles and the surrounding surface water in the Bay will provide insight into what processes are being mediated by these communities and the possible impact on the health of the estuarine environment. Further characterization of plastic degrading metabolism of functional families with the capability to digest polymers will be performed. It is crucial to understand the microorganisms that inhabit plastic debris in aquatic systems and their metabolic capacity to assess their potential roles in global nutrient cycles and their ability to be utilized as bioremediation for plastic pollution.