Eliminating Ocean Microplastics with Microbes
Sadly, plastic is now the most prevalent type of marine debris found in the world’s oceans. Plastic debris comes in all shapes and sizes, but those which are less than five millimeters are called “microplastics.” Microbes are microscopic organisms, but constitute the largest biomass in the ocean. They colonize plastic once it enters the environment, creating a “plastisphere” that may contain pathways for toxin production and could be harboring fish or human pathogens. It is known that certain microbes can degrade different plastics using unknown pathways. JCVI scientists have been tackling this troubling area for several years. Dr. Dupont and his team are working to identify these microbes and better understand their mechanisms. Using sequencing and synthetic biology, they aim to engineer new microbes for safe plastic degradation and “upcycling” to decrease or even eliminate microplastics.