Bringing the Ocean to Society
27 Jun 2017
Microplastics in the ocean... a solution
New study reveals how a marine fungus can be used as a bioremediation tool.

Marine litter is a serious and pertinent issue anywhere in the world as EurOcean has been addressing (like here and here). In particular, plastic pollution is of growing concern as it accumulates in the environment. A new study by the University of Aveiro (Portugal) estimates that the plastic yearly production has surpassed the 300 million tons mark and recycling has all but failed in constituting a viable solution for the disposal of plastic waste.

As these materials continue to accumulate in the environment, namely, in rivers and oceans, in the form of macro-, meso-, micro- and nanoplastics, it becomes of the utmost urgency to find new ways to curtail this environmental threat. Multiple efforts have been made to identify and isolate microorganisms capable of utilizing synthetic polymers and recent results point towards the viability of a solution for this problem based on the biodegradation of plastics resorting to selected microbial strains.

The Portuguese researchers (including representatives from EurOcean former Member, CESAM) have measured the response of the fungus Zalerion maritimum to different times of exposition to polyethylene (PE) pellets, in a minimum growth medium, was evaluated, based on the quantified mass differences in both the fungus and the microplastic pellets used.

Results showed that Z. maritimum is capable of utilizing PE, resulting in the decrease, in both mass and size, of the pellets. These results indicate that this naturally occurring fungus may actively contribute to the biodegradation of microplastics, requiring minimum nutrients.

Z. maritimum can therefore constitute an effective response to the current and urgent need of alternative routes to minimize and abate the presence of microplastics in aquatic systems and, more specifically, in the oceans.

The study concludes that due to the natural occurrence of this organism in maritime coastal waters, there is a high potential for this fungus in future bioremediation strategies aiming at curtailing the increasing presence of microplastics in the environment.

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