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Article

The Terrestrial Plastisphere: Diversity and Polymer-Colonizing Potential of Plastic-Associated Microbial Communities in Soil

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GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section Geomicrobiology, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
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GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section Interface Geochemistry, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
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Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH, Carl Zeiss Strasse 22, 73447 Oberkochen, Germany
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Department of Earth Sciences, Free University of Berlin, 12249 Berlin, Germany
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Department of Physical and Chemical Analysis of Polymers, BAM Berlin, 12205 Berlin, Germany
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Institute of Geosciences, University of Potsdam, 14476 Potsdam, Germany
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Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, 14476 Potsdam, Germany
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Ulrich Stingl
Microorganisms 2021, 9(9), 1876; https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9091876
Received: 2 August 2021 / Revised: 24 August 2021 / Accepted: 26 August 2021 / Published: 3 September 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Microbes on Plastics, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind)
The concept of a ‘plastisphere microbial community’ arose from research on aquatic plastic debris, while the effect of plastics on microbial communities in soils remains poorly understood. Therefore, we examined the inhabiting microbial communities of two plastic debris ecosystems with regard to their diversity and composition relative to plastic-free soils from the same area using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Furthermore, we studied the plastic-colonizing potential of bacteria originating from both study sites as a measure of surface adhesion to UV-weathered polyethylene (PE) using high-magnification field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM). The high plastic content of the soils was associated with a reduced alpha diversity and a significantly different structure of the microbial communities. The presence of plastic debris in soils did not specifically enrich bacteria known to degrade plastic, as suggested by earlier studies, but rather shifted the microbial community towards highly abundant autotrophic bacteria potentially tolerant to hydrophobic environments and known to be important for biocrust formation. The bacterial inoculates from both sites formed dense biofilms on the surface and in micrometer-scale surface cracks of the UV-weathered PE chips after 100 days of in vitro incubation with visible threadlike EPS structures and cross-connections enabling surface adhesion. High-resolution FESEM imaging further indicates that the microbial colonization catalyzed some of the surface degradation of PE. In essence, this study suggests the concept of a ‘terrestrial plastisphere’ as a diverse consortium of microorganisms including autotrophs and other pioneering species paving the way for those members of the consortium that may eventually break down the plastic compounds. View Full-Text
Keywords: plastisphere; plastic pollution; soil microbial community; microbial diversity; biofilms; microbe–plastic interactions; polyethylene colonization; FESEM imaging plastisphere; plastic pollution; soil microbial community; microbial diversity; biofilms; microbe–plastic interactions; polyethylene colonization; FESEM imaging
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MDPI and ACS Style

MacLean, J.; Mayanna, S.; Benning, L.G.; Horn, F.; Bartholomäus, A.; Wiesner, Y.; Wagner, D.; Liebner, S. The Terrestrial Plastisphere: Diversity and Polymer-Colonizing Potential of Plastic-Associated Microbial Communities in Soil. Microorganisms 2021, 9, 1876. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9091876

AMA Style

MacLean J, Mayanna S, Benning LG, Horn F, Bartholomäus A, Wiesner Y, Wagner D, Liebner S. The Terrestrial Plastisphere: Diversity and Polymer-Colonizing Potential of Plastic-Associated Microbial Communities in Soil. Microorganisms. 2021; 9(9):1876. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9091876

Chicago/Turabian Style

MacLean, Joana, Sathish Mayanna, Liane G. Benning, Fabian Horn, Alexander Bartholomäus, Yosri Wiesner, Dirk Wagner, and Susanne Liebner. 2021. "The Terrestrial Plastisphere: Diversity and Polymer-Colonizing Potential of Plastic-Associated Microbial Communities in Soil" Microorganisms 9, no. 9: 1876. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9091876

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