Plastic pollution in aquatic environments, particularly microplastics (<5 mm), is an emerging health threat. The buoyancy, hydrophobic hard surfaces, novel polymer carbon sources and long-distance transport make microplastics a unique substrate for biofilms, potentially harbouring pathogens and enabling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) gene exchange. Microplastic concentrations, their polymer types and the associated microbial communities were determined in paired, contemporaneous samples from the Dutch portion of the river Rhine. Microplastics were collected through a cascade of 500/100/10 μm sieves; filtrates and surface water were also analysed. Microplastics were characterized with infrared spectroscopy. Microbial communities and selected virulence and AMR genes were determined with 16S rRNA-sequencing and qPCR. Average microplastic concentration was 213,147 particles/m3; polyamide and polyvinylchloride were the most abundant polymers. Microbial composition on 100–500 μm samples differed significantly from surface water and 10–100 μm or smaller samples, with lower microbial diversity compared to surface water. An increasingly ‘water-like’ microbial community was observed as particles became smaller. Associations amongst specific microbial taxa, polymer types and particle sizes, as well as seasonal and methodological effects, were also observed. Known biofilm-forming and plastic-degrading taxa (e.g. Pseudomonas) and taxa harbouring potential pathogens (Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Arcobacter) were enriched in certain sample types, and other risk-conferring signatures like the sul1 and erm(B) AMR genes were almost ubiquitous. Results were generally compatible with the existence of taxon-selecting mechanisms and reduced microbial diversity in the biofilms of plastic substrates, varying over seasons, polymer types and particle sizes. This study provided updated field data and insights on microplastic pollution in a major riverine environment.
- Antimicrobial resistance
- Surface water