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Microplastics help viruses survive in water

Microplastics help viruses survive in water

According to a new study, plastic pollution, especially from microplastics, could be even more dangerous than previously thought. The microplastics present in the waters are in fact capable of help viruses survive longer and remain infectious in fresh water for days.

Plastic and wastewater pathogens: an additional health risk

An even more dangerous aspect of this discovery is the awareness of the fact that waste waterin which there are large volumes of pathogenic microorganisms, they also contain large quantities of microplastics despite having been treated. This eventually finds its way into the oceans, he added. The microplastic-rich wastewater, with its viral load, then ends up reaching inland waters undisturbed and eventually the oceans.

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Microplastics in wastewater and surface water come rapidly colonized by the microbial biofilm. The researchers showed that a layer of microbial cells then forms on the surface of the microplastics immediately after being released into fresh water. This nutrient-rich coating it becomes a hospitable surface for microorganisms which then move onto the floating microplastics.

The researchers hypothesized in their study that such plastic viral communities persist longer and spread further into the environment and can act as a vector for human pathogens.

Microplastics help viruses live longer

To conduct the study, the research team used the rotavirus (RV) SA11 (a non-enveloped enteric virus) and the bacteriophage with Phi6 envelope, as models to quantify the binding and presence of viruses in biofilm-colonized microplastic pellets. Three different scenarios for water treatment were considered in the research: filtered, unfiltered, and nutrient-added surface water.

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Analyzes have shown that viruses associated with pellets colonized by biofilms were more stable than those left free in the water in any type of scenario. The viral particles were in fact protected by microplastics against inactivation factors. The results also suggest that the presence of an envelope in the pathogen may limit the interaction of the virus with plastics.

Richard Quilliamfrom Stirling University and lead researcher on the project, said viruses on microplastics are remained alive in the water for three days. Enough time for the sewage drained into the rivers to reach the beaches. Furthermore, according to Quilliam, viruses can also attach themselves to natural components, but when associated with plastics they survive much longer.

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According to the research, a combination of factors such as the high abundance of microplastics in wastewater, inherent characteristics of plastics such as buoyancy and hydrophobicity, and a high burden of human viral pathogens in wastewater treatment offers a large margin for the association of viruses to the surfaces of microplastics.

The viruses were tested for three days, but a longer study period it will determine exactly how long the viruses will survive on the plastic surface.

Photo by Sören Funk on Unsplash