World News

Disease-causing parasites survive on microplastics in the sea; travel far

Microplastics serve as systems helping disease-causing parasites travel across the seas.

Plastic is evil. The realisation had dawned many years ago, but humankind has still not come to terms with the extreme damage plastics can cause. Whenever a discussion on plastic pollution comes up, the topic ends on how to seek measures to end the use of plastic and let man and animal live on.

Plastic pollution isn’t just about the toxic elements filling up the earth and oceans. They have been found to be even dangerous. One major threat that’s invisible to the eye and has important consequences for both human and animal health has been unearthed by researchers.

A team of researchers studying how waterborne pathogens are formed has encountered a phenomenon that could pave the way for many more studies on that terrain.

Trying to understand what happens when microplastics and disease-causing pathogens end up in the same body of water, the researchers found that pathogens from land can hitch a ride to the beach on microscopic pieces of plastic, providing a new way for germs to concentrate along coastlines and travel to the deep sea.

Microplastics are present everywhere

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at how parasites that are common contaminants in marine water and seafoods – single-celled protozoans Toxoplasma gondii (Toxo), Cryptosporidium (Crypto) and Giardia – end up in waterways. They found that they reach waterways when droppings from infected animals, and humans, contaminate the environment.

A report on the study said that Crypto and Giardia parasites can trigger gastrointestinal illnesses that may prove deadly in young children and immune-compromised individuals. Meanwhile, Toxo can bring in lifelong infections in people with weak immune systems. Besides, they can also cause miscarriage in pregnant women and also could cause blindness and neurological diseases in the baby.

It has also been noted that the Toxo parasite infects marine wildlife and kills endangered species, including southern sea otters, Hector’s dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals, the report added. To learn whether these parasites can survive for long in plastic surfaces, the team of researchers placed microplastic beads and fibers in beakers of seawater in our lab for two weeks so as to induce the formation of a biofilm, which is explained as a sticky layer of bacteria and gellike substances that coats plastics when they enter fresh or marine waters.

Parasites on the move could spread long distances

The parasites were then added to the test bottles and tested how they get stuck on the microplastics. The result was that many number of parasites had clung on to the microplastics, and the number kept on growing. It was also found that microplastics had been serving as systems helping in mobility for these parasites. Thus the parasites on the move could spread long distances and they could be present everywhere.

It is high time microplastics, and plastics in general, are to be controlled. This could help human kind in a major way.

Show More

Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The New Indian Express, MSN India, PanAsiaBiz. Sanjeev can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button