Investigating the impact of microplastics on wildlife and human health

Theme: Environmental Hazards & Pollution

Primary Supervisor:

Susan Jobling

Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel

Susan Jobling's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Elisabete Silva

Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel

Elisabete Silva's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Plastics are highly versatile materials that have brought huge societal benefits. However, by 2050 it is anticipated that an extra 33 billion tonnes of plastic will be added to the planet (Rochman et al 2013 Nature 494:169). Captain Charles Moore introduced the world to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the mid-1990s. Since, there has been increasing interest from scientists, the public and policy-makers regarding plastics in the ocean, due to their widespread use, resistance to degradation and indiscriminate disposal.

Large pieces of plastic debris can cause harm to a variety of marine animals. Microplastics and nanoplastics (fragments from larger plastic debris ≤ 1mm in size or small plastic items, such as exfoliants in cosmetics) can also be found in various organisms in the ocean, although their biological and ecological effects are less obvious. Consequently, much of the related research is still in its infancy. Recently, studies about microbeads in personal care products and fiber particles found in household drains have raised serious concerns (Cole et al 2011 Mar Pollut Bull 62:2588). Trophic transfer of microplastics through the marine food chain has been demonstrated in the laboratory but there is currently little evidence for the unintended ingestion or uptake of microplastics into organisms through the diet.

By using a combination of in vivo, in vitro and omics approaches, this project aims at elucidating the toxic effects of microplastics on living organisms (wildlife and humans) by investigating their absorption into tissues and their effects on organ and cell integrity and function.

Policy Impact of Research:

The investigation of the toxic effects of microplastics on wildlife and humans is of utmost importance if we are to understand the real risks they pose to living organisms. This research has the potential to inform both risk assessment procedures and the regulation of plastic use and disposal.

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