According to a study that could open up new avenues to combat drug-resistant superbacterial infections, plastic pollution in the ocean could be the source of new antibiotics in the future.
Previous studies estimate that about 12 trillion to 125 trillion microplastics float in the seas, and around 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic pollution may be spreading into the ocean.
Scientists are revealing that plastic pollution is accumulating in pockets in the world’s oceans, such as in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Even the very cold polar regions of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica cannot escape the threat of plastic pollution.
The researchers also warned that plastic pollutants, ranging from large floating debris to microplastics, could provide microbes with the surface area to grow and form holistic ecosystems.
Some of these microbial ecosystems could pose a global health threat by harboring antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This new research, scheduled to be presented at the American Society for Microbiology conference in Washington, D.C., between June 9 and 13, reveals that plastic pollution in the oceans could be the source for bacteria that produce new antibiotics against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
In the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, scientists including participants from the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in the US evaluated the potential of the plastisphere of the Earth’s oceans (ecosystems adapted to man-made plastic habitats) as a source of new antibiotics.
Researchers incubated for 90 days the high- and low-density polyethylene plastic common in grocery bags in the waters near Scripps Pier in La Jolla, California.
After this time, the scientists stated that they could isolate 5 antibiotic-producing bacteria, including Bacillus, Phaeobacter and Vibrio strains, from ocean plastic.
The researchers also tested the microbial isolates against a variety of other Gram-positive and negative bacteria.
These isolates were found to be effective against two superbacterial strains that are resistant to commonly used bacteria and antibiotics.
Andrea Price, lead author of the study from National University, said in a statement: “Given the current antibiotic crisis and the rise of superbacteria, it is imperative to look for alternative sources for new antibiotics. We hope to expand this project and determine in even more detail the microbes and the properties of the antibiotics they produce.”