Research discovers new bacteria that stick to

image: The deep-sea lander used in research
to see After

Credit: Newcastle University

Scientists at Newcastle University have discovered new types of plastic-loving bacteria that stick to plastic in the deep sea, which may allow them to “hitchhike” across the ocean.

The team showed for the first time that these plastic-loving deep-sea bacteria make up just 1% of the total bacterial community. Report their findings in the review Environmental pollutionthe team found that these bacteria only stick to the plastic and not to the non-plastic control of the stone.

The research highlights that these bacteria may be able to “hitchhike” through the ocean depths by attaching to plastic, thereby enhancing microbial connectivity in seemingly isolated environments.

To unlock these mysteries of the deep “plastisphere”, the team used an offshore “lander” in the Northeast Atlantic to deliberately sink two types of plastic, polyurethane and polystyrene, to the depths (1800m) then collect the material to reveal a cluster of plastic-loving bacteria. This method helps solve the problem of how plastics and subsequently our understanding of the “plastisphere” (microbial community attached to plastic) are sampled in the environment to provide consistent results.

Scientists have observed a mix of diverse and extreme living bacteria, including calorithrix, which is also found in deep sea hydrothermal venting systems and Spirosome, which was isolated from arctic permafrost. Other bacteria included marine methylotrophic group 3 – a group of bacteria isolated from deep sea methane seeps, and Aliivibrio, a pathogen that has had a negative impact on the fish farming industry, highlighting a growing concern over the presence of plastic in the ocean.

In their most recent work, they also found an isolated strain originally from the RMS Titanic named Halomonas titanicae. While the rust-eating microbe was originally found on the wreckage, researchers have now shown that it also likes to stick to plastic and is able to degrade low crystallinity plastic.

The research was conducted by Max KellyPhD student in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Newcastle.

He said: “The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on earth and probably an end sink for the vast majority of plastic that enters the marine environment, but it is a difficult place to study. Combining deep-sea experts, engineers and marine microbiologists, our team helps elucidate the bacterial community that can adhere to plastic to reveal the ultimate fate of deep-sea plastic.

Microplastics (fragments with a diameter of less than 5mm) account for 90% of the plastic debris found on the surface of the ocean and the amount of plastic entering our ocean is significantly higher than estimates of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean. ‘ocean. Although the plastic-loving bacteria found in the study here represent a small fraction of the plastic-colonizing community, they highlight the emerging ecological impacts of plastic pollution in the environment.


Kelly, M., Whitworth, P., Jamieson, A. and Burgess, J. (2022). Bacterial colonization of plastic in the Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic: A better understanding of the deep plastisphere. Environmental pollution119314. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119314

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