Did you know that, on average, some people ingest five grams of plastic every week? Five whole grams is the equivalent of a credit card.
That’s because everywhere, there are minuscule pieces of plastic. These tiny bits have been found in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we inhale. Microplastics have also been discovered in humans’ blood, feces, and placenta.
While we know that tiny pieces of plastic are all around and in us, though, the impact of microplastics on humans and other animals has not been completely understood.
However, new research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has found that microplastics may impact the gut microbiome of seabirds– or the trillions of microbes in the intestines that play a critical role in the health of both humans and animals.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic measuring under five millimeters in diameter. And unfortunately, this kind of pollution has plagued countless parts of the world– including even remote regions such as the Arctic and the Tibetan Plateau.
Scientists are unsure just how much plastic the majority of animals are exposed to. However, sea birds are particularly vulnerable since the birds spend much of their life eating fish located at the water’s surface. This leads to the ingestion of floating plastic.
Past studies have already found that these floating microplastics are extremely damaging for seabirds, too. After animals ingest microplastic, their stomachs often feel full– causing them to not eat enough and ultimately starve to death.
In addition to that, the chemicals from the plastic pieces are also harmful, resulting in symptoms such as inflammation.
It was this finding that inspired Gloria Fackelmann, a microbial biologist from Ulm University in Germany, to wonder whether the microbes that stick to plastic surfaces might also impact animals’ microbiomes after ingestion.
Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.