Meta-analysis based global survey of the microbial life associated with microplastics in the aquatic environment

, Keating Ciara, Trego Anna C., Chen Bozhen, Li Keda, Ijaz Umer Z., Gauchotte-Lindsay Caroline.

Background & Objectives Since the discovery of microplastics in the 1970's researchers have sought to understand the persistence of these particles both in the environment and in living animals resulting in 4,211 peer-reviewed articles. 242 of these published publications were associated with phrases relating to microbial life. Microorganisms are infamous for their potential for degradation of a variety of natural and synthetic compounds. Thus, the microorganisms colonising microplastics are of great interest. However, research also suggests that microplastics can be a novel breeding ground for pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes which are then easily carried through aquatic environments. To this end, the aim of our work was to combine and re-analyse these previously published datasets to provide a global perspective of the microbial communities associated with microplastics from i) seawater and freshwater aquatic systems ii) lab-based incubations, and including iii) a variety of microplastic materials (e.g. polystyrene [PS] and polyethylene [PE]). Methods Briefly, we searched for published articles containing the term ‘microplastics' and 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using the Illumina Miseq platform. Where the authors had made the data publicly available ( 30% of relevant published work) the data was downloaded ( 800 samples) and processed using QIIME2 following a meta-analysis workflow as described in Keating et al (2020). Results & Conclusions Microbial species diversity was lowest in the samples associated with PS and PE microplastic materials. In general, samples clustered according to geographical location and sample type. Microbial species classed as lottery winners were identified (i.e. a winning colonising species). Winner behavior shifted according to sample type with Flavobacteriaceae and Saprospiraceae microbial families showing high winner prevalence in samples associated with specific microplastics (PE, PS). These were also the sole species characterised as part of the core microbiome (75% prevalence) of microplastic colonisers.

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