‘A new and unanticipated danger of plastic pollution’: New study shows plastic’s effect on ocean bacteria that provide Earth’s oxygen

The study is the first of its kind to look at the impacts of plastic on this type of bacteria.


Bacteria in the ocean provides ten percent of the oxygen we breathe and plastic could be killing it.

According to a new study publishes in the Communications Biology, exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfere with the “growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria.”

Researchers of the study conducted laboratory tests, exposing two strains of Prochlorococcus found at different depths in the ocean to chemicals leached from two common plastic products – grey plastic grocery bags and PVC matting.

Results showed the exposure to the chemicals impaired the growth and function of the microbes, including the amount of oxygen they produced, as well as altered the expression of their genes.

Prochlorococcus are tiny bacteria but provide a huge source of carbohydrate and oxygen production in the ocean. 

“These tiny microorganisms are critical to the marine food web, contribute to carbon cycling and are thought to be responsible for up to 10 per cent of the total global oxygen production,” says Dr. Lisa Moore, co-author on the paper.

The study is the first of its kind to look at the impacts of plastic on this type of bacteria. Researchers are eager to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on the microbes in the ocean, outside of the laboratory.

“Our data shows that plastic pollution may have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond the known effects on macro-organisms, such as seabirds and turtles,” says lead author Dr. Sasha Tetu. ”If we truly want to understand the full impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment and find ways to mitigate it, we need to consider its impact on key microbial groups, including photosynthetic microbes.”


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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.