Toxic bacteria found residing on microplastics on Singapore beaches

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A study has found toxic bacteria in Singapore beaches. More than 400 types of bacteria were found on 275 pieces of microplastics collected from 3 beaches...

A study has found toxic bacteria in Singapore beaches. More than 400 types of bacteria were found on 275 pieces of microplastics collected from 3 beaches - Lazarus Island, Sembawang Beach and Changi Beach, between April and July 2018.

These include dangerous bacteria capable of causing wound infections and gastroenteritis.

Toxic bacteria in Singapore beaches

Marine scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found many different types of bacteria on the tiny plastic items, which were smaller than 5 mm each.

The microplastics apparently originated from disposable forks, spoons and straws, which can take many hundreds of years to biodegrade.

The research team used DNA sequencing and found various types of bacteria, including the Photobacterium rosenbergii, which is often associated with coral bleaching and disease.

They also found the dangerous Vibrio bacteria, also known as “flesh-eating” bacteria, a major cause of wound infections in humans. Species of Arcobacter, which causes gastroenteritis, were also found.

toxic bacteria in Singapore

The discovery is significant because beaches are frequented by the general public, and it is important to create awareness, to prevent the spread of disease.

Ms Emily Curren, a PhD student at the Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, says, "As the microplastics we studied were collected from locations easily accessible to the public and in areas widely used for recreation, the identification of potentially pathogenic bacteria is important in preventing the spread of diseases."

Also, these toxic bacteria can enter the food chain, and get passed on to humans, when swallowed by fish and other marine life.

Dr Sandric Leong, research lead, shares that, "Marine organisms may consume bits of microplastics unintentionally and this could lead to the accumulation and subsequent transfer of marine pathogens in the food chain."

“Plastics are a very good habitat for them… because these plastics have grooves that allow bacteria to attach to and because of the sheer volume of the amount of plastic,” says Ms Curren.

The bacteria were apparently able to survive even in dark and dry conditions for 2 weeks.

The study also highlights the growing concerns and dangers associated with plastic pollution. There is apparently 150 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean. Microplastics are known to harm marine life, which mistake them for food, and can be consumed by humans too via seafood, tap water or other food. 

Microplastics also take longer to degrade in the sea than on land, due to the lower temperatures and presence of salt.

Also READ: Contamination of bottled water: Study reveals plastic particles

(Source: The Straits Times, Today)

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