Plastic pollution in the ocean could serve as a new source of antibiotics, according to a new study conducted by students in collaboration with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The study will be presented at the American Society of Microbiology conference in Washington, DC, 9-13 October 2022. in June.
Scientists estimate that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year, ranging from large floating debris to microplastics on which microbes can form entire ecosystems. Plastic waste is rich in biomass and could therefore be a good candidate for the production of antibiotics, which tend to occur in a highly competitive natural environment.
To explore the potential of plastispheres as a new source of antibiotics, researchers redesigned Tiny Earth’s civic scientific approach (developed by Dr. Jo Handelsman) to marine conditions. The researchers incubated high- and low-density polyethylene plastics (the type commonly seen in grocery bags) for 90 days in water near the Scripps Pier in Laolla, California.
Researchers have released 5 antibiotic-producing bacteria from ocean plastics, including strains Bacillus, Phaeobacter and vibrio. They tested bacterial isolates against a variety of gram-positive and negative targets, finding that the isolates were effective against commonly used bacteria as well as 2 antibiotic-resistant strains.
“Given the current antibiotic crisis and the rise of superbugs, it is vital to look for alternative sources of new antibiotics,” said Andrea Praisa, lead author of the study at the National University. “We hope to expand this project and further describe microbes and the antibiotics they produce.”
This project was part of the STEM education project funded by the National Science Foundation.
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