Technology

Research: Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe —


“We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus , the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu.


In the first study of its kind, the researchers looked at the effects these chemicals have on the smallest life in our oceans, photosynthetic marine bacteria.


“We looked at a group of tiny, green bacteria called Prochlorococcus which is the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth, with a global population of around three octillion (~1027) individuals,” says Sasha.


“These tiny microorganisms are critical to the marine food web, contribute to carbon cycling and are thought to be responsible for up to 10 per cent of the total global oxygen production,” says Lisa, explaining the fundamental importance of these microbes to ocean health.


They found that exposure to these chemicals impaired the growth and function of these microbes — including the amount of oxygen they produce — as well as altering the expression of a large number of their genes.


“Our data shows that plastic pollution may have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond the known effects on macro-organisms, such as seabirds and turtles,” says Sasha.






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