Recent advances in research on microplastics in the water

Microscopic pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, are found in the tallest mountain ranges to some of the deepest crevasses in the ocean. But scientists are still trying to understand the fate of these human-made pollutants once they’re released into the environment, especially aquatic ecosystems. Below are some recent papers published in ACS journals that report insights into tracking microplastics in the ocean and freshwater environments. Reporters can request free access to these papers by emailing [email protected] reveal what happens to microplastics in the environment, this research team incorporated fluorescent quantum dot tags into biodegradable poly(lactic acid). In fluorescence microscopy experiments, the team observed that as bacteria broke down the material, the microorganisms incorporated microscopic particles into their cells. Additionally, images of zebrafish fed microspheres of the tagged plastic showed that the animals accumulated the pieces in their stomachs. The researchers suggest that this labeling technique could help track of plastics in aquatic environments to find out how they get broken down and ingested.

More plastic waste enters the ocean than is found floating on its surface. But where is the “missing plastic” hiding? Here, researchers looked for it deeper in the water. They sampled the North Atlantic Ocean’s plastic pollution zone and found microplastic pieces as far as 1,968 feet below the sea’s surface. The particles’ abundance was associated with sticky gels exuded by microorganisms, which the researchers hypothesize would drive movement into the deep ocean.

Here, these researchers concluded that sunlight could change microplastics’ properties. After exposure to artificial sunlight, 60 µm-wide polyethene spheres no longer floated at the water’s surface and instead sank below the surface. In addition, the spheres adsorbed positively charged pollutants, such as malachite green and lead ions, which they didn’t stick to before the exposure. The team says that these findings prove why microplastics are found on the seafloor and that their settling could shuttle pollutants from the surface to the deep ocean, magnifying the particles’ potential negative effects.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and read within the scientific literature; however, ACS does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’s main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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About the Author: Isaac Washington

Isaac Washington is the most recent addition to our team. Isaac specializes in General News, and Home and Garden news. Isaac has worked for years in the agricultural industry and recently has turned his attention to writing. Technology is one of his passions.