Plastic pollution may be contributing to the growth of bacteria in lakes, according to a new international study

  • 2022-08-06

A new environmental study published in Nature Communications, an academic journal owned by Springer Nature, suggests that chemicals leached from plastic bags stimulate bacterial growth in lakes more than natural organic matter. The findings, based on samples from 29 Scandinavian lakes, may inform mitigation strategies in some scenarios.

 

Freshwater is widely polluted by plastic waste, according to the paper. The decomposition of plastic releases compounds that may either provide energy for bacterial growth or impair it because of its toxicity. However, the effects of these compounds on bacterial metabolism and growth rates are not well understood. Co-corresponding authors Eleanor Sheridan and Andrew Tanentzap of the University of Cambridge, UK, in collaboration with colleagues, used ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometry to examine low-density polyethylene plastic bags (LDPE, One of the most common plastics in fresh water) and organic matter in water samples from 29 Scandinavian lakes. They found that the compounds dissolved from plastic are chemically different and more readily used by bacteria as a source of carbon than natural organic matter. The increase in carbon availability increased the growth of bacteria by 1.72 times. They note that growth rates depend both on the diversity of bacteria and on the characteristics of the natural organic matter in the lake. The authors also caution that their study focused entirely on bacteria and did not consider the effects of plastic on other microbes, such as microalgae and fungi. However, they suggest that certain bacterial groups, such as Deinococcus and Hymenobacter, which grow naturally in lake environments, may be particularly well suited to removing plastic-produced compounds, which could help with future pollution mitigation strategies.

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