Justine Jacquin 1 , Jingguang Cheng 1 , Charlène Odobel 1 , Caroline Pandin 1 , Pascal Conan 1 , Mireille Pujo-Pay 1 , Valérie Barbe 1 , 2 , Anne-Leila Meistertzheim 1 , 3 , Jean-François Ghiglione 1 , *
25 April 2019
Over the last decades, it has become clear that plastic pollution presents a global societal and environmental challenge given its increasing presence in the oceans. A growing literature has focused on the microbial life growing on the surfaces of these pollutants called the “plastisphere,” but the general concepts of microbial ecotoxicology have only rarely been integrated. Microbial ecotoxicology deals with (i) the impact of pollutants on microbial communities and inversely (ii) how much microbes can influence their biodegradation. The goal of this review is to enlighten the growing literature of the last 15 years on microbial ecotoxicology related to plastic pollution in the oceans. First, we focus on the impact of plastic on marine microbial life and on the various functions it ensures in the ecosystems. In this part, we also discuss the driving factors influencing biofilm development on plastic surfaces and the potential role of plastic debris as vector for dispersal of harmful pathogen species. Second, we give a critical view of the extent to which marine microorganisms can participate in the decomposition of plastic in the oceans and of the relevance of current standard tests for plastic biodegradability at sea. We highlight some examples of metabolic pathways of polymer biodegradation. We conclude with several questions regarding gaps in current knowledge of plastic biodegradation by marine microorganisms and the identification of possible directions for future research.