Distribution of Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Aquatic Ecosystems and Their Impacts on Aquatic Organisms, with Emphasis on Microalgae

Plastics, with their many useful physical and chemical properties, are widely used in various industries and activities of daily living. Yet, the insidious effects of plastics, particularly long-term effects on aquatic organisms, are not properly understood. Plastics have been shown to degrade to micro- and nanosize particles known as microplastics and nanoplastics, respectively. These minute particles have been shown to cause various adverse effects on aquatic organisms, ranging from growth inhibition, developmental delay and altered feeding behaviour in aquatic animals to decrease of photosynthetic efficiency and induction of oxidative stress in microalgae. This review paper covers the distribution of microplastics and nanoplastics in aquatic ecosystems, focusing on their effects on microalgae as well as co-toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics with other pollutants. Besides that, this review paper also discusses future research directions which could be taken to gain a better understanding of the impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics on aquatic ecosystems.

Jun-Kit Wan, Wan-Loy Chu, Yih-Yih Kok, Choy-Sin Lee, Chapter, Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series, Springer

The chapter


Sorption of fluorescent polystyrene microplastic particles to edible seaweed Fucus vesiculosus

Increased global demands for food have raised interest for seaweed as a healthy and sustainable food source. At the same time, the large amounts of microplastic in the oceans have raised concern in relation to pollution of seafood including sea vegetables. The aim of this study was to examine sorption of fluorescent polystyrene (PS) microplastic particles to edible macroalga (seaweed) Fucus vesiculosus, and to investigate to what extent adsorbed PS particles could be washed off, using an industrial relevant method. PS microplastic particles (diameter of 20 μm) were used in a concentration of 2.65 mg L−1 (corresponding to 597 particles per mL) in filtrated seawater (50 mL) to treat F. vesiculosus distal tips in blue cap flasks (100 mL) placed in a rotary box for 2 h. Results showed sorption of PS microplastic particles to F. vesiculosus analysed by microscopy and a significant reduction of 94.5% by washing. These results were based on high microplastic concentrations, not comparable to natural conditions/concentrations. Nonetheless, this study provides methodological and mechanistic insights into procedures for investigating the sorption of microplastics to seaweed, for which there is currently no established standardised method.

Kasper Bjerrum Sundbæk, Ida Due Würtzner Koch, Clara Greve Villaro, Niclas Spangegaard Rasmussen, Susan Løvstad Holdt, Nanna B. Hartmann, 6th Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology, Journal of Applied Phycology, pp 1–5

The article

Microplastic ingestion by Daphnia magna and its enhancement on algal growth

The rapid increase in plastic use over the last few decades has resulted in plastic pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems. However, more attention has been paid to plastic pollution in marine ecosystems than to freshwater ecosystems. This research determined microplastic ingestion by Daphnia magna and the potential effect of microplastics on the organism’s survival and reproduction. The study also examined the potential of microplastics to enhance algal growth in support of understanding effects of microplastic ingestion on the organism. When exposed to 25, 50, and 100 mg/L fluorescent green polyethylene microbeads at size of 63–75 μm, D. magna ingested significant amount of plastic microbeads. The number of ingested beads increased with increasing particle concentration and exposure time. However, no significant effect on survival and reproduction was observed although the gut of D. magna was filled with plastic microbeads. In the algal experiment, Raphidocelis subcapitata grew more in the exposure media with the present of plastic microbeads than without plastic microbeads. This result suggests that plastic microbeads could serve as substrates for R. subcapitata to grow. Raphidocelis subcapitata then could be transferred to the organism’s gut and provided energy for survival and reproduction. Results of the present study add to the literature of microplastic ingestion by aquatic organisms. Caution should be taken when interpreting hazards of microplastics based on ingestion, such as the measurement unit and the presence of algae in the environment.

P. M. Canniff, T. C. Hoang, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 633, 15 August 2018, Pages 500–507

The article

Long-term toxicity of surface-charged polystyrene nanoplastics to marine planktonic species Dunaliella tertiolecta and Artemia franciscana

Plastic pollution has been globally recognized as a critical issue for marine ecosystems and nanoplastics constitute one of the last unexplored areas to understand the magnitude of this threat. However, current difficulties in sampling and identifying nano-sized debris make hard to assess their occurrence in marine environment. Polystyrene nanoparticles (PS NPs) are largely used as nanoplastics in ecotoxicological studies and although acute exposures have been already investigated, long-term toxicity on marine organisms is unknown. Our study aims at evaluating the effects of 40 nm PS anionic carboxylated (PS-COOH) and 50 nm cationic amino-modified (PS-NH2) NPs in two planktonic species, the green microalga Dunaliella tertiolecta and the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana, respectively prey and predator. PS NP behaviour in exposure media was determined through DLS, while their toxicity to microalgae and brine shrimps evaluated through 72 h growth inhibition test and 14 d long-term toxicity test respectively. Moreover, the expression of target genes (i.e. clap and cstb), having a role in brine shrimp larval growth and molting, was measured in 48 h brine shrimp larvae. A different behaviour of the two PS NPs in exposure media as well as diverse toxicity to the two planktonic species was observed. PS-COOH formed micro-scale aggregates (Z-Average > 1 μm) and did not affect the growth of microalgae up to 50 μg/ml or that of brine shrimps up to 10 μg/ml. However, these negatively charged NPs were adsorbed on microalgae and accumulated (and excreted) in brine shrimps, suggesting a potential trophic transfer from prey to predator. On the opposite, PS-NH2-formed nano-scale aggregates (Z-Average < 200 nm), caused inhibition of algal growth (EC50 = 12.97 μg/ml) and mortality in brine shrimps at 14 d (LC50 = 0.83 μg/ml). Moreover, 1 μg/ml PS-NH2 significantly induced clap and cstb genes, explaining the physiological alterations (e.g. increase in molting) previously observed in 48 h larvae, but also suggesting an apoptotic pathway triggered by cathepsin L-like protease in brine shrimps upon PS-NH2 exposure. These findings provide a first insight into long-term toxicity of nanoplastics to marine plankton, underlining the role of the surface chemistry in determining the behaviour and effects of PS NPs, in terms of adsorption, growth inhibition, accumulation, gene modulation and mortality. The use of long-term end-point has been identified as valuable tool for assessing the impact of nanoplastics on marine planktonic species, being more predictable of real exposure scenarios for risk assessment purposes.

E. Bergami, S. Pugnalini, M.L. Vannuccini, L. Manfra, C. Faleri, F. Savorelli, K.A. Dawson, I. Corsi, Aquatic Toxicology, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 189, August 2017, Pages 159–169

The article

The toxicity of plastic nanoparticles to green algae as influenced by surface modification, medium hardness and cellular adsorption

To investigate processes possibly underlying accumulation and ecological effects of plastic nano-particles we have characterized their interaction with the cell wall of green algae. More specifically, we have investigated the influence of particle surface functionality and water hardness (Ca2+ concentration) on particle adsorption to algae cell walls. Polystyrene nanoparticles with different functional groups (non-functionalized, −COOH and −NH2) as well as coated (starch and PEG) gold nanoparticles were applied in these studies. Depletion measurements and atomic force microscopy (AFM) showed that adsorption of neutral and positively charged plastic nanoparticles onto the cell wall of P. subcapitata was stronger than that of negatively charged plastic particles. Results indicated that binding affinity is a function of both inter-particle and particle-cell wall interactions which are in turn influenced by the medium hardness and particle concentration. Physicochemical modelling using DLVO theory was used to interpret the experimental data, using also values for interfacial surface free energies. Our study shows that material properties and medium conditions play a crucial role in the rate and state of nanoparticle bio-adsorption for green algae. The results show that the toxicity of nanoparticles can be better described and assessed by using appropriate dose metrics including material properties, complexation/agglomeration behavior and cellular attachment and adsorption. The applied methodology provides an efficient and feasible approach for evaluating potential accumulation and hazardous effects of nanoparticles to algae caused by particle interactions with the algae cell walls.

Tom M. Nolte , Nanna B. Hartmann, J. Mieke Kleijn, Jørgen Garnæs, Dik van de Meent, A. Jan Hendriks, Anders Baun, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 183, February 2017, Pages 11–20

The article

Toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum: Interactions between microplastic and algae

To investigate toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum, both algal growth inhibition test and non-contact shading test were carried out, and algal photosynthesis parameters were also determined. The SEM images were used to observe interactions between microplastic and algae. It was found that microplastic (mPVC, average diameter 1 μm) had obvious inhibition on growth of microalgae and the maximum growth inhibition ratio (IR) reached up to 39.7% after 96 h exposure. However, plastic debris (bPVC, average diameter 1 mm) had no effects on growth of microalgae. High concentration (50 mg/L) mPVC also had negative effects on algal photosynthesis since both chlorophyll content and photosynthetic efficiency (ΦPSⅡ) decreased under mPVC treatments. Shading effect was not one reason for toxicity of microplastic on algae in this study. Compared with non-contact shading effect, interactions between microplastic and microalage such as adsorption and aggregation were more reasonable explanations for toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae. The SEM images provided a more direct and reasonable method to observe the behaviors of microplastic.

Cai Zhang, Xiaohua Chen, Jiangtao Wang, Liju Tan, Environmental Pollution, Volume 220, Part B, January 2017, Pages 1282–1288

The article

Microplastic interactions with freshwater microalgae: Hetero-aggregation and changes in plastic density appear strongly dependent on polymer type

In this study, the interactions between microplastics, chosen among the most widely used in industry such as polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and a model freshwater microalgae, Chlamydomas reinhardtii, were investigated. It was shown that the presence of high concentrations of microplastics with size >400 μm did not directly impact the growth of microalgae in the first days of contact and that the expression of three genes involved in the stress response was not modified after 78 days. In parallel, a similar colonization was observed for the two polymers. However, after 20 days of contact, in the case of PP only, hetero-aggregates constituted of microalgae, microplastics and exopolysaccharides were formed. An estimation of the hetero-aggregates composition was approximately 50% of PP fragments and 50% of microalgae, which led to a final density close to 1.2. Such hetero-aggregates appear as an important pathway for the vertical transport of PP microplastics from the water surface to sediment. Moreover, after more than 70 days of contact with microplastics, the microalgae genes involved in the sugar biosynthesis pathways were strongly over-expressed compared to control conditions. The levels of over-expression were higher in the case of HDPE than in PP condition. This work presents the first evidence that depending on their chemical nature, microplastics will follow different fates in the environment.

Fabienne Lagarde, Ophélie Olivier, Marie Zanella, Philippe Daniel, Sophie Hiard, Aurore Caruso, Environmental Pollution, Volume 215, Pages 331–339, August 2016

The article