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Faster growth may help bacteria remove plastic debris from lakes: study

#Faster #growth #bacteria #remove #plastic #debris #lakes #study

Chemicals leaking from plastic waste make bacteria grow faster in European lakes, according to a study published on Tuesday, which authors say could offer a natural route to remove plastic pollution from freshwater ecosystems.

Microplastics have been found practically everywhere in the world – from the highest glaciers to the bottom of the deepest sea trenches – but the effects of plastic pollution in lakes are less well understood than in oceans.

When plastic materials like tote bags break down in water, they release simple carbon compounds that are slightly different than those produced when organic matter breaks down, like twigs and leaves.

University of Cambridge researchers wanted to see what effect these compounds had on bacterial populations in 29 lakes across Scandinavia.

They cut up plastic bags from four major UK supermarket chains and mixed them with water until the carbon compounds were released.

Then they filled glass bottles with water from each lake and mixed a small amount of the plastic water into half of those samples.

In the water with plastic compounds, the bacteria had doubled their mass within 72 hours and had already absorbed about half of the carbon contained in the samples.

Overall, they found that the bacteria in the plastic water samples grew almost twice as easily (1.72 times) as the sea bacteria with no added plastic water.

Andrew Tanentzap, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, said the study shows the profound effects of plastic pollution on freshwater bodies where the litter is present.

“It’s almost as if the plastic pollution stimulates the bacteria’s appetite,” he said.

“This suggests that plastic pollution is stimulating the entire food web in lakes, as more bacteria means more food for the larger organisms like ducks and fish.”

The study examined how bacteria in lakes of different depth, location, surface temperature and organic matter content respond to plastic carbon compounds.

It showed that bacteria were better able to remove plastic pollution in lakes with fewer unique natural carbon compounds because there were fewer natural food sources.

The results suggest that in some places, certain types of bacteria could be harnessed to help break down plastic waste.

“But you want to know more about ecosystem balance before you commit to it,” the author of the first study, Eleanor Sheridan, told AFP.

She also warned against assuming that bacteria alone could solve the growing ecological disaster caused by plastic waste.

Plastics “not only harm ecosystems at a macro level, they also contain chemicals that leach out and persist when a plastic bag is fished out of the water,” Sheridan said.

“I hope this will raise awareness of the wide variety of impacts that just one type of pollution can have on the environment.”

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#Faster #growth #bacteria #remove #plastic #debris #lakes #study

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