19 Jul 2023 EVENT

Microplastics in Focus: Imptox Scientists from UGent Share First Findings at the ASLO Meeting 2023 in Spain


Examining the attachment of microbial communities to microplastics in different marine ecosystems.



Imptox scientists from Ghent University have been investigating microplastics (MP) and their interactions with microbial communities in different marine environments. At the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) meeting held in Palma de Mallorca from June 4th to 9th, 2023, they presented the first results of their experiments.


Under the leadership of Prof. Andreja Rajkovic (Ghent University), the team incubated microplastics in different marine environments in the North Sea to study the natural attachment of microbial communities to microplastics. They conducted two distinct experiments: the first eight-week incubation took place at an aquaculture farm and an industrial harbor, from August to October 2022, revealing distinct biofilm structures between the sites and dates. In the second experiment, they carried out in situ incubations in five different locations with distinct environmental parameters, showing different biofilm structures between fresh and seawaters, pristine and polluted sites.


Imptox researcher, Elsa Gadoin from Ghent University presented the outcome of these investigations in a talk entitled “Diversity of Species and Genes within Microplastic-Attached Biofilm in Time and Space”. The ASLO 2023 Meeting, with the theme "Resilience and Recovery in Aquatic Systems," provided an excellent opportunity for Imptox scientists to engage in insightful exchanges with researchers from diverse disciplines, further enriching their understanding of this complex topic.


The escalating use of plastic and the inadequate management of plastic waste globally have led to the widespread presence of microplastics (MP) in aquatic environments, posing a significant threat to marine life and ecosystems. In recent times, scientists have been increasingly focusing on the microbial communities that colonize the surface of MPs due to their potential hazards.


Plastics colonising organisms, including bacteria and fungi, have found in plastic surfaces a new home, literally creating a new ecosystem where they interact with the environment and other organisms. Plastisphere is the term used to describe this complex situation. Studies have revealed that MP surfaces in different marine ecosystems exhibit an enrichment of pathogenic bacteria, and there are suggestions that the plastisphere may serve as a hotspot for horizontal gene transfer. However, many unanswered questions persist regarding the composition of these communities, how they vary under different environmental conditions in various ecosystems, and how they evolve over time. Additionally, the understanding of the diversity of resistance and virulence genes within the plastisphere and their expression levels in the natural environment remains limited.


Imptox scientists are collaborating to better understand this phenomenon, and the ASLO 2023 Meeting played a crucial role in facilitating meaningful discussions with researchers from various fields.


Stay tuned on our website and social media for more research news coming out of Imptox.