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      Early Colonization of Weathered Polyethylene by Distinct Bacteria in Marine Coastal Seawater

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          Plastic debris in aquatic environments is rapidly colonized by a diverse community of microorganisms, often referred to as the “Plastisphere.” Given that common plastics are derived from fossil fuels, one would expect that Plastispheres should be enriched with obligate hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (OHCB). So far, though, different polymer types do not seem to exert a strong effect on determining the composition of the Plastisphere, and putative biodegrading bacteria are only found as rare taxa within these biofilms. Here, we show through 16S rRNA gene sequencing that the enrichment of a prominent OHCB member on weathered and non-weathered polyethylene only occurred at early stages of colonization (i.e., after 2 days of incubation in coastal marine water; 5.8% and 3.7% of relative abundance, respectively, vs. 0.6% on glass controls). As biofilms matured, these bacteria decreased in relative abundance on all materials (< 0.3% after 9 days). Apart from OHCB, weathered polyethylene strongly enriched for other distinct organisms during early stages of colonization, such as a specific member of the Roseobacter group and a member of the genus Aestuariibacter (median 26.9% and 1.8% of the community, respectively), possibly as a consequence of the availability of short-oxidized chains generated from weathering. Our results demonstrate that Plastispheres can vary in accordance with the weathering state of the material and that very early colonizing communities are enriched with taxa that can potentially degrade hydrocarbons. Given the lack of persistent enrichment and overall community convergence between materials over time, common non-hydrolysable polymers might not serve as an important source of carbon for mature Plastispheres once the labile substrates generated from weathering have been depleted.

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          The online version of this article (10.1007/s00248-019-01424-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references 36

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          Overview of the marine roseobacter lineage.

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            Degradation of alkanes by bacteria.

             Fernando Rojo (2009)
            Pollution of soil and water environments by crude oil has been, and is still today, an important problem. Crude oil is a complex mixture of thousands of compounds. Among them, alkanes constitute the major fraction. Alkanes are saturated hydrocarbons of different sizes and structures. Although they are chemically very inert, most of them can be efficiently degraded by several microorganisms. This review summarizes current knowledge on how microorganisms degrade alkanes, focusing on the biochemical pathways used and on how the expression of pathway genes is regulated and integrated within cell physiology.
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              Microplastic is an abundant and distinct microbial habitat in an urban river.

              Recent research has documented microplastic particles (< 5 mm in diameter) in ocean habitats worldwide and in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Microplastic interacts with biota, including microorganisms, in these habitats, raising concerns about its ecological effects. Rivers may transport microplastic to marine habitats and the Great Lakes, but data on microplastic in rivers is limited. In a highly urbanized river in Chicago, Illinois, USA, we measured concentrations of microplastic that met or exceeded those measured in oceans and the Great Lakes, and we demonstrated that wastewater treatment plant effluent was a point source of microplastic. Results from high-throughput sequencing showed that bacterial assemblages colonizing microplastic within the river were less diverse and were significantly different in taxonomic composition compared to those from the water column and suspended organic matter. Several taxa that include plastic decomposing organisms and pathogens were more abundant on microplastic. These results demonstrate that microplastic in rivers are a distinct microbial habitat and may be a novel vector for the downstream transport of unique bacterial assemblages. In addition, this study suggests that urban rivers are an overlooked and potentially significant component of the global microplastic life cycle.

                Author and article information

                Microb Ecol
                Microb. Ecol
                Microbial Ecology
                Springer US (New York )
                29 August 2019
                29 August 2019
                : 79
                : 3
                : 517-526
                [1 ]GRID grid.7372.1, ISNI 0000 0000 8809 1613, School of Life Sciences, , University of Warwick, ; Coventry, CV4 7AL UK
                [2 ]GRID grid.7372.1, ISNI 0000 0000 8809 1613, Department of Chemistry, , University of Warwick, ; Coventry, CV4 7AL UK
                [3 ]GRID grid.7372.1, ISNI 0000 0000 8809 1613, Warwick Medical School, , University of Warwick, ; Coventry, CV4 7AL UK
                © The Author(s) 2019

                Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

                Funded by: FundRef, Natural Environment Research Council;
                Award ID: NE/K009044/1
                Award ID: NE/S005501/1
                Award ID: CENTA
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: FundRef, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council;
                Award ID: BB/M01116X/1
                Award Recipient :
                Microbiology of Aquatic Systems
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                © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020


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