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Ocean Plastics Host Surprising Microbial Array 117

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 cfulton ( 543949 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:15PM (#44033241)
    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. Evolution will fill available niches. That is the point to some extent of evolution. Why are we surprised that microbes are eating plastic? Why are we surprised that they then cause follow on effects? Seems obvious to me that it would happen given that it is in line with theory.

    I would also comment that we need to find a different way of expressing changes in ecology. It seems that any change to the ecological status quo is regarded as a problem or disaster. We know from the historical record that nothing in nature stays in a steady state. 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.
  • Frankenbug (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:31PM (#44033359) Journal

    What happens if this bacteria grows really good at it and starts munching away at everyday items on land?

    You're at an interview or on a date and your polyester pants unexpectedly succumb to the hungry little buggers.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:37PM (#44033409) Journal

    But predicting the future path of evolution is like predicting the stock market. You can't plan around the schedule of mutations. Who knows if these plastic munching traits are a freak mutation caused by a single cosmic ray from Orion or something that has a predictable time-line.

  • Credibility (Score:1, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:41PM (#44033465) Journal

    "While the microbes could speed the plastic's decay, they might also cause their own ecological problems, the researchers say"

    And if anyone needed a reason that people don't take eco-nuts seriously, here it is.

    Here we have a nice sign that some crappy thing we're doing to the environment might be mitigated in some small way by Mother Nature, and the response is what? Not "great! let's spend time working on other problems!" it's "oh noes, we think there are just other problems we haven't discovered yet".

    Just be happy, once, that something is a good thing without always trying to find the lining of doom and gloom and people might not just treat you like the gloomy harbingers you are.

  • by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:44PM (#44033499) Homepage

    Which means we really should be throwing our plastics in the ocean instead of a landfill? I guess recycling would suffice.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday June 17, 2013 @05:21PM (#44033837)

    I just get a little tired of the scientific media and even some evolutionary biologists who act surprised when things happen that are predicted by their science.

    It's the difference between theory and observation, my dear. A scientist will always be excited when the two match. It's no different than the landing of the Mars rovers. Sure, we expected them to land... but we still broke out the champaign and celebrated when they did.

  • You can't trust evolution to clean up after you

    Partly disagree. You can't trust evolution to clean up after you on a useful time scale. It will clean up after you eventually, even if incorporating plastic into a new paradigm (RIP Saint Carlin) is the means it uses to do this. You might not be around to see it happen, however, nor your hypothetical descendants.

If a subordinate asks you a pertinent question, look at him as if he had lost his senses. When he looks down, paraphrase the question back at him.