Scientists from the United States have found that micropastic can become a collection site for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They can increase their resilience up to thirty times.

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have shown that microplastics can become a hub and collection point for antibiotic-resistant bacteria or pathogens. They form a mucous layer or biofilm on the surface of microplastics, which allows pathogenic microorganisms and antibiotic waste to move.

In an article published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, the researchers described that some strains of bacteria, when living on microplastic biofilms, increase their resistance to antibiotics by up to 30 times.

“We have conducted several new studies on the negative impact that millions of tons of microplastic waste each year have on our freshwater and oceanic environments. But until now, the role of microplastics in wastewater treatment processes in our cities and towns has been largely unknown, ”said Mengyan Li, associate professor of chemistry and environmental sciences. “These wastewater treatment plants can be where various chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pathogens converge, and our research shows that microplastics can serve as a carrier.”

During the study, the team collected sludge samples from three sewage treatment plants in northern New Jersey. They found them in two common types of microplastics – polyethylene (PE) and polystyrene (PS). The team used a combination of quantitative PCR and next-generation sequencing techniques to identify the types of bacteria that tend to grow on microplastics, tracking the genetic changes in bacteria along the way.

The analysis showed that the three genes that were found on microplastic biofilms were 30 times greater than in control tests conducted in the laboratory using sand biofilms.