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Plastic Pollution Harms The Bacteria That Produce 10% Of The Oxygen We Breathe

Get this. There’s a species of bacteria in the ocean that is responsible for producing 10% of the oxygen that you’re breathing right now⏤⁣that’s one in every 10 breaths. A new study has shown that plastic negatively affects the amount of oxygen these little guys produce. And you know what’s in the ocean? A lot of plastic.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Macquarie University in Australia have examined the effects that plastics have on a type of photosynthetic marine bacteria called Prochlorococcus. (Come on now, you can pronounce it! “pro-chloro-coc-cus”)

The team exposed two different strains of the bacteria to chemicals that they had extracted from plastic grocery bags and PVC matting.

They found that exposure to these chemicals impaired the growth and function of these microbes⏤⁣most importantly the amount of oxygen they produce⏤⁣as well as altering the expression of a large number of their genes.

"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 and Macquarie University researcher 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."