Putative degraders of low-density polyethylene-derived compounds are ubiquitous members of plastic-associated bacterial communities in the marine environment

Maria Pinto, Paula Polania Zenner, Teresa M Langer, Jesse Harrison, Meinhard Simon, Marta M Varela, Gerhard J Herndl

It remains unknown whether and to what extent marine prokaryotic communities are capable of degrading plastic in the ocean. To address this knowledge gap, we combined enrichment experiments employing low-density polyethylene (LDPE) as the sole carbon source with a comparison of bacterial communities on plastic debris in the Pacific, the North Atlantic and the northern Adriatic Sea. A total of 35 OTUs were enriched in the LDPE-laboratory incubations after one year, of which 20 were present with relative abundances > 0.5% in at least one plastic sample collected from the environment. From these, OTUs classified as Cognatiyoonia, Psychrobacter, Roseovarius, and Roseobacter were found in the communities of plastics collected at all oceanic sites. Additionally, OTUs classified as Roseobacter, Pseudophaeobacter, Phaeobacter, Marinovum and Cognatiyoonia, also enriched in the LDPE-laboratory incubations, were enriched on LDPE communities compared to the ones associated to glass and polypropylene in in situ incubations in the northern Adriatic Sea after one month of incubation. Some of these enriched OTUs were also related to known alkane and hydrocarbon degraders. Collectively, these results demonstrate that there are prokaryotes capable of surviving with LDPE as the sole carbon source living on plastics in relatively high abundances in different water masses of the global ocean. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Research Platform Plastics in the Environment and Society, Functional and Evolutionary Ecology
External organisation(s)
Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Campus IFOM-IEO, Universität Wien, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Environmental Microbiology
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106021 Marine biology
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