Microfibres, the new floating home of bacteria in the Mediterranean Sea


Microfibers produced by plastic pollution, the textile industry and fishing have gradually accumulated in the seas and oceans, but their health effects remain poorly understood. Now researchers have shown that these fibers can become a reservoir for pathogens, with nearly 200 species of bacteria taking over the synthetic and natural filaments. Microfiber pollution is widespread in coastal surface waters of all ocean basins. Whether it’s synthetic or natural polymers, these particles can become an emerging pollution problem because organisms are exposed to this mixture on a daily basis. Maria Luiza Pedrotti of Sorbonne Université wanted to study the bacterial composition of microfibers floating in the Mediterranean Sea. This sea, while representing 0.8% of the world’s marine waters, is responsible for around 7% of global microplastic pollution.


The researchers collected samples from the sea surface aboard the research vessel ‘The Alchemy’, a sailing vessel sailing in the northwestern Mediterranean. The samples were then analyzed in the Villefranche-sur-mer Oceanography Laboratory of the Sorbonne University. The researchers combined molecular analysis and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to analyze the samples.

“We have described about 200 species of bacteria attached to microfibers floating in the Mediterranean Sea, including synthetic fibers, and among these species we have found some potential pathogens for humans and animals, such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus (a bacterium linked to stomach),” Pedrotti told ZME. “We observed an average concentration of 2663 bacteria/fiber.”

This is the first study reporting the presence of Vibrio parahaemolyticus on microfibers in the Mediterranean Sea. The identification of these microfiber colonizers offers valuable insight for assessing health risks, as their presence may pose a threat to seafood consumption, the researchers said. Based on the results of the diversity of bacteria living on microplastics, the researchers hope to investigate other types of analyzes to study how these bacteria express their pathogenicity and how this is influenced by the environmental conditions of the seas, in particular by temperature. The Mediterranean is warming faster than other oceanic regions of the world, explain the researchers: “The Mediterranean is under constant human pressure regarding pollution and the consequences of climate change, with waters warming faster to the rest of the ocean, especially during the summer months,” they write in the document. “These changing conditions can lead to changes in the structure of marine microbial communities.”

  • Vibrio spp and other potential pathogenic bacteria associated to microfibers in the North-Western Mediterranean Sea. 


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