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Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Aug 18;49(16):9629-38. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b01093. Epub 2015 Aug 6.

Bacterial Community Profiling of Plastic Litter in the Belgian Part of the North Sea.

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†Institute of Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Animal Sciences Unit - Aquatic Environment and Quality, Ankerstraat 1, 8400 Ostend, Belgium.
‡Institute of Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Plant Sciences Unit - Crop Protection, Burgemeester Van Gansberghelaan 96, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium.
§Department of Applied Mathematics, Computer Sciences and Statistics, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281 S9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
∥Institute of Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Plant Sciences Unit - Growth and Development, Caritasstraat 21, 9090 Melle, Belgium.


Bacterial colonization of marine plastic litter (MPL) is known for over four decades. Still, only a few studies on the plastic colonization process and its influencing factors are reported. In this study, seafloor MPL was sampled at different locations across the Belgian part of the North Sea to study bacterial community structure using 16S metabarcoding. These marine plastic bacterial communities were compared with those of sediment and seawater, and resin pellets sampled on the beach, to investigate the origin and uniqueness of plastic bacterial communities. Plastics display great variation of bacterial community composition, while each showed significant differences from those of sediment and seawater, indicating that plastics represent a distinct environmental niche. Various environmental factors correlate with the diversity of MPL bacterial composition across plastics. In addition, intrinsic plastic-related factors such as pigment content may contribute to the differences in bacterial colonization. Furthermore, the differential abundance of known primary and secondary colonizers across the various plastics may indicate different stages of bacterial colonization, and may confound comparisons of free-floating plastics. Our studies provide insights in the factors that shape plastic bacterial colonization and shed light on the possible role of plastic as transport vehicle for bacteria through the aquatic environment.

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