SINGAPORE: Toxic bacteria that can cause infections on open wounds have been found on microplastics collected from three coastal areas in Singapore.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) said on Monday (Feb 11) its marine scientists found more than 400 types of bacteria on microplastics collected from Lazarus Island, Sembawang Beach and Changi Beach between April and July last year.
During the six-month study, the scientists used DNA sequencing to examine 275 pieces of microplastics, which are pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in size.
They found species of marine Vibrio - a major cause of wound infections in humans - as well as species of Arcobacter, which is known to cause gastroenteritis.
The team also found the bacteria Photobacterium ronsebergii, which is associated with coral bleaching and disease. The bacteria can be detrimental for the coral reefs in the southern strait of Singapore, which are under conservation.
On the positive side, the team also found species of bacteria capable of degrading plastic and cleaning up oil spills, providing "nature-friendly alternatives" in dealing with pollution from plastics and other toxic materials.
“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 would be important in preventing the spread of diseases,” said Ms Emily Curren, a PhD student at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) and the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science.
There are currently more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean, said NUS. Microplastics, in particular, are often mistaken as food by marine organisms, such as shrimps, mussels and fish.
"This could lead to the accumulation and subsequent transfer of marine pathogens in the food chain," said Dr Sandric Leong, research lead and Senior Research Fellow at TMSI.
"Hence, understanding the distribution of microplastics and identifying the organisms attached to them are crucial steps in managing the plastic pollution on a national and global scale,” Dr Leong added.