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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 afidel (530433) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:15PM (#44033239)

    I bet they're either pseudomonas putida or a closely related pseudomonas, these are the bacteria that have been used to aid in the cleanup of oil spills and which naturally occur in the ocean bottom where petroleum oozes out of natural cracks in the cap containing them.

  • Silver lining (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:24PM (#44033315) Homepage Journal

    If they can process plastics into something edible (work as CHON food [darwincentral.org] sintetizers) or that can be metabolized by the ocean ecosystem could be a way to get rid of the Great Pacific garbage patch [wikipedia.org] should be something pretty good.

    In the other hand, if those start to pour into our plastic and oil dependant civilization could be pretty damaging.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:27PM (#44033335) Journal

    Given how late to the game plastics are, it is fairly impressive how fast they've moved. Some modified natural polymers go a fair way back; but most of the synthetics that we think of as 'plastics' are under a century old, are reasonably novel(not just a synthesis technique that is cheaper than the organic method for producing an existing material), and are often selected, at least in part, for good resistance to decay.

    Also, polymers can be pretty tough molecules to crack: even something like cellulose, which is literally older than (some) dirt, is attacked primarily by a relatively small group of specialist organisms.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:38PM (#44033421)

    Despite the hype, plastics are still very chemically similar to the organic compounds they are made from. There are a few lab-produced chemicals that are truly foreign to the biosphere, but plastics are much more familiar to the ecology than we were told each Earth Day.

    The main argument for plastic alienation is that the dominant oil-eating organisms are deep ocean dwellers and all the testing was done in standard landfill conditions with the sorts of fungi and bacteria that thrive in anaerobic mud.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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