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

Interactions between polystyrene microplastics and marine phytoplankton lead to species-specific hetero-aggregation

To understand the fate and impacts of microplastics (MP) in the marine ecosystems, it is essential to investigate their interactions with phytoplankton as these may affect MP bioavailability to marine organisms as well as their fate in the water column. However, the behaviour of MP with marine phytoplanktonic cells remains little studied and thus unpredictable. The present study assessed the potential for phytoplankton cells to form hetero-aggregates with small micro-polystyrene (micro-PS) particles depending on microalgal species and physiological status. A prymnesiophycea, Tisochrysis lutea, a dinoflagellate, Heterocapsa triquetra, and a diatom, Chaetoceros neogracile, were exposed to micro-PS (2 μm diameter; 3.96 μg L−1) during their growth culture cycles. Micro-PS were quantified using an innovative flow-cytometry approach, which allowed the monitoring of the micro-PS repartition in microalgal cultures and the distinction between free suspended micro-PS and hetero-aggregates of micro-PS and microalgae. Hetero-aggregation was observed for C. neogracile during the stationary growth phase. The highest levels of micro-PS were “lost” from solution, sticking to flasks, with T. lutea and H. triquetra cultures. This loss of micro-PS sticking to the flask walls increased with the age of the culture for both species. No effects of micro-PS were observed on microalgal physiology in terms of growth and chlorophyll fluorescence. Overall, these results highlight the potential for single phytoplankton cells and residual organic matter to interact with microplastics, and thus potentially influence their distribution and bioavailability in experimental systems and the water column.

Marc Long, Ika Paul-Pont, Hélène Hégaret, Brivaela Moriceau, Christophe Lambert, Arnaud Huvet, Philippe Soudant, Environmental Pollution, Volume 228, September 2017, Pages 454–463

The article

Video captures moment plastic enters food chain

A scientist has filmed the moment plastic microfibre is ingested by plankton, illustrating how the material is affecting life beneath the waves.
The footage shows one way that waste plastic could be entering the marine and global food chain. An estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic “disappears” from the world’s waste stream each year. Waste plastic in the world’s seas has been recognised by the United Nations as a major environmental problem. (…) (Dr R. Kirby, bbc.com, 11/03/2017)

The news

Microplastic pollution in the Greenland Sea: Background levels and selective contamination of planktivorous diving seabirds

Microplastics have been reported everywhere around the globe. With very limited human activities, the Arctic is distant from major sources of microplastics. However, microplastic ingestions have been found in several Arctic marine predators, confirming their presence in this region. Nonetheless, existing information for this area remains scarce, thus there is an urgent need to quantify the contamination of Arctic marine waters. In this context, we studied microplastic abundance and composition within the zooplankton community off East Greenland. For the same area, we concurrently evaluated microplastic contamination of little auks (Alle alle), an Arctic seabird feeding on zooplankton while diving between 0 and 50 m. The study took place off East Greenland in July 2005 and 2014, under strongly contrasted sea-ice conditions. Among all samples, 97.2% of the debris found were filaments. Despite the remoteness of our study area, microplastic abundances were comparable to those of other oceans, with 0.99 ± 0.62 m−3 in the presence of sea-ice (2005), and 2.38 ± 1.11 m−3 in the nearby absence of sea-ice (2014). Microplastic rise between 2005 and 2014 might be linked to an increase in plastic production worldwide or to lower sea-ice extents in 2014, as sea-ice can represent a sink for microplastic particles, which are subsequently released to the water column upon melting. Crucially, all birds had eaten plastic filaments, and they collected high levels of microplastics compared to background levels with 9.99 and 8.99 pieces per chick meal in 2005 and 2014, respectively. Importantly, we also demonstrated that little auks took more often light colored microplastics, rather than darker ones, strongly suggesting an active contamination with birds mistaking microplastics for their natural prey. Overall, our study stresses the great vulnerability of Arctic marine species to microplastic pollution in a warming Arctic, where sea-ice melting is expected to release vast volumes of trapped debris.

F. Amélineau, D. Bonnet, O. Heitz, V. Mortreux, A.M.A. Harding, N. Karnovsky, W. Walkusz, J. Fort, D. Grémillet, Environmental Pollution, Volume 219, December 2016, Pages 1131–1139

The article

Prevalence of microplastics in the marine waters of Qatar

Microplastics are firmly recognized as a ubiquitous and growing threat to marine biota and their associated marine habitats worldwide. The evidence of the prevalence of microplastics was documented for the first time in the marine waters of Qatar’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). An optimized and validated protocol was developed for the extraction of microplastics from plankton-rich seawater samples without loss of microplastic debris present and characterized using Attenuated Total Reflectance-Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy. In total 30 microplastic polymers have been identified with an average concentration of 0.71 particles m− 3 (range 0–3 particles m− 3). Polypropylene, low density polyethylene, polyethylene, polystyrene, polyamide, polymethyl methacrylate, cellophane, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene polymers were characterized with majority of the microplastics either granular shape, sizes ranging from 125 μm to 1.82 mm or fibrous with sizes from 150 μm to 15.98 mm. The microplastics are evident in areas where nearby anthropogenic activities, including oil-rig installations and shipping operations are present.

Azenith B. Castillo, Ibrahim Al-Maslamani, Jeffrey Philip Obbard, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 111, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2016, Pages 260–267

The article

Microplastics Alter the Properties and Sinking Rates of Zooplankton Faecal Pellets

Plastic debris is a widespread contaminant, prevalent in aquatic ecosystems across the globe. Zooplankton readily ingest microscopic plastic (microplastic, < 1 mm), which are later egested within their faecal pellets. These pellets are a source of food for marine organisms, and contribute to the oceanic vertical flux of particulate organic matter as part of the biological pump. The effects of microplastics on faecal pellet properties are currently unknown. Here we test the hypotheses that (1) faecal pellets are a vector for transport of microplastics, (2) polystyrene microplastics can alter the properties and sinking rates of zooplankton egests and, (3) faecal pellets can facilitate the transfer of plastics to coprophagous biota. Following exposure to 20.6 μm polystyrene microplastics (1000 microplastics mL–1) and natural prey (∼1650 algae mL–1) the copepod Calanus helgolandicus egested faecal pellets with significantly (P < 0.001) reduced densities, a 2.25-fold reduction in sinking rates, and a higher propensity for fragmentation. We further show that microplastics, encapsulated within egests of the copepod Centropages typicus, could be transferred to C. helgolandicus via coprophagy. Our results support the proposal that sinking faecal matter represents a mechanism by which floating plastics can be vertically transported away from surface waters.

Matthew Cole, Penelope K. Lindeque, Elaine Fileman, James Clark, Ceri Lewis, Claudia Halsband, and Tamara S. Galloway, Environ. Sci. Technol., 50 (6), pp 3239–3246, 2016

The article

Research highlights: impacts of microplastics on plankton

Each year, millions of metric tons of the plastic produced for food packaging, personal care products, fishing gear, and other human activities end up in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. The breakdown of these primary plastics in the environment results in microplastics, small fragments of plastic typically less than 1–5 mm in size. These synthetic particles have been detected in all of the world’s oceans and also in many freshwater systems, accumulating in sediment, on shorelines, suspended in surface waters, and being ingested by plankton, fish, birds, and marine mammals. While the occurrence of plastics in surface waters has been surveyed in a number of studies, the impacts of microplastics on marine organisms are still being elucidated. This highlight features three recent publications that explore the interactions of microplastics with planktonic organisms to clarify the effects of these pollutants on some of the ocean’s smallest and most important inhabitants.

Graphical abstract: Research highlights: impacts of microplastics on plankton

Vivian S. Lin, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2016,18, 160-163