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Science

Ocean Plastics Host Surprising Microbial Array 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the life-will-find-a-way dept.
MTorrice writes "A surprising suite of microbial species colonizes plastic waste floating in the ocean, according to a new study. The bacteria appeared to burrow pits into the plastic. One possible explanation is that bacteria eat into the polymers, weakening the pieces enough to cause them to break down more quickly and eventually sink to the sea floor. While the microbes could speed the plastic's decay, they might also cause their own ecological problems, the researchers say."
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Ocean Plastics Host Surprising Microbial Array

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:31PM (#44033361)

    I'm always confounded when evolution does what it is predicted to do and we are all surprised by it. That waste can be used as food. Something will find a way to eat it.

    That's not strictly accurate. Neither is the supposition "and eventually sink to the sea floor." There are two growing patches of plastic which has been ground down to the point where it is now a gloppy film-like consistency to much of it, and it has been bleached white from UV light, and although it's almost degraded to the molecular level... it's not sinking.

    Worse, it's killing everything in the area as animals try to turn it into food... which in turn thanks to the food chain, means other animals, who didn't eat it, become contaminated by it, and so on and so on. But at no point has there been much evidence of evolutionary adaptation to convert this plastic waste into an actual food product. Animals adapt to its presence... and maybe eventually won't die because it is infesting the environment... but anything much more complicated than an amoeba has shown zero ability to metabolize this.

    You can't trust evolution to clean up after you. :/ This argument is as specious as suggesting that we shouldn't worry about global warming because eventually a creature will be born that eats all of our waste for us and shits out rainbows.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:31PM (#44033363)
    The only specific microbes mentioned in the abstract is the genus vibrio. The vast majority of microbes are uncharacterized, which is not surprising given the sheer number of branches in archea and eubacteria. Bacteria, for example, it's estimated that there are 10 million to a billion species [wisegeek.org]. It would be surprising, to say the least, if there is only one microbe out there that eats petroleum or it's byproducts.
  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:40PM (#44033443)
    The timescale is pretty short though. We're not talking about a natural food source that has been around forever, we're talking about something that has been around in mass quantities for, what, a century?

    We know that changes in ecology are often boom bust cycles that eventually find an equilibrium from which it will, over time, move away from into a new boom bust cycle. "Punctuated Equilibrium" - nice name for it.

    Punctuated Equalibrium, the theory, applies to evolution really, not ecology. And in one of his books at least, Gould points out it's really only talking about multicellular evolution. Bacteria don't do sex, they don't have "species" in the same sense that we do. "Species" often means something close to "organisms which can breed together." Asexual division obviously makes that not an issue. So bacteria aren't really constrained to punctated equalibrium.

    He also pointed out in that same chapter that since bacteria dramatically outnumber eukarya, anytime some creationist starts yapping about how macroevolution is "unproven" despite microevolution, you could point out that microevolution is really the big picture that they've granted, and macroevolution is just a small, trivial detail.

  • by Enigma2175 (179646) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:31PM (#44035275) Homepage Journal

    If we didn't have cars, we would be knee deep in horse crap.

    Being serious for a moment... no, we wouldn't. And that would be a good thing in spite of its effect on public health, insect control, and having to constantly clean it all up. There would only be localized agriculture, much lower crop yields, no processed and junk food, drastically lower human population, less opportunities for concentration of wealth... you get the picture I expect.

    You realize there were cities before there were cars, right? And in those cities, there was a LARGE manure problem? According to this page [nofrakkingconsensus.com] it was 3,000,000 pounds PER DAY in New York City. FTA:

    "even when it had been removed from the streets the manure piled up faster than it could be disposed ofearly in the century farmers were happy to pay good money for the manure, by the end of the 1800s stable owners had to pay to have it carted off. As a result of this glutvacant lots in cities across America became piled high with manure; in New York these sometimes rose to forty and even sixty feet"

    Yeah, sounds like a real utopia!

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