IOW-Pressemitteilung vom 14

IOW Press Release of April 9, 2014
Piggyback pathogens? The new Leibniz network MikrOMIK is
dedicated to studying the potential danger of marine microplastics
Are marine microplastics the ideal medium for spreading germs, for example
Vibrio? A comprehensive 12-institute consortium led by the Warnemünde
environmental microbiologist Matthias Labrenz will pursue this question over
the next three years.
Day in, day out, countless plastic microparticles are swept into the sea. Their
small size of less than 5 mm prevents their retention by water treatment
plants. And their sources are becoming ever more numerous. A single fleece
pullover in the washing machine releases thousands of microfibers that
easily evade the lint trap. They are as blithely prevalent in toothpastes and
peeling products as in cleaning and polishing agents. A modern household
without microplastics is, today, nearly unimaginable. Thus plastic, which
primarily ends up in the environment as tiny particles, is only one side of the
microplastics story. Rather, there are also secondary microplastics, such as
pulverized plastic bottles, plastic bags, and nylon nets, i.e., plastic waste that
cannot be recycled.
These microparticles can be taken up by organisms, such as those that have
become specialized in filtering their nutrients out of the water. Because
plastic is poorly degradable, these particles pass virtually unchanged through
the organism's digestive tract and are usually excreted. Along the way,
however, pathogenic microbes can adhere to them and then proliferate. That
plastic generally offers a favorable surface for certain pathogens has already
been shown. Presumably, a similar role is played by microplastics, as transfer
sites in the digestive tract, but this has yet to be confirmed. If this hypothesis
turns out to be true, then the ubiquity and easy spread of microplastics poses
a high hazard potential.
For Matthias Labrenz the results of this project are therefore of great societal
interest. "Today, we know much too little to be able to talk about a genuine
danger. But there are scenarios that emerge from risks that are serious
enough to demand clarity."
In MikrOMIK, a network of microbiologists, benthologists, infectious disease
biologists, biogeochemists, and modelers are working together on the proof
of this hypothesis. Experts from the leading German centers belong to the
consortium. Institutes from the UK and Denmark extend the expertise beyond
Germany's borders.
The network has set itself three major goals: 1. Its members want to first
determine the distribution of microplastics in the Baltic Sea as well as the
areas from which they are emitted and where they accumulate, since thus far
robust data are sorely missing. 2. The typical microbial communities of
biofilms formed on microparticles will be examined and their characteristics
and functions identified. The third and overall goal of the project is to answer
the question, what potential health risks do pathogen-inhabited
microparticles pose for the Baltic Sea States.
The project is funded by the so-called "Pact for Research and Innovation." It
makes available funds that Leibniz Association members can use for
competitive projects. The sponsorship is in the amount of 1.35 million Euros
for three years.
The MikrOMIK network
Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde (IOW) / PD. Dr. Matthias Labrenz (Project
leader, Environmental Microbiology), PD Dr. Joanna Waniek (Biogeochemistry), PD Dr. Gerald
Schernewski (Applied Coastal Research and Coastal Zone Mamagement), Prof. Dr. Hans
Burchard (Physical Oceanography and Measurement Techniques), Dr. Sonja Oberbeckmann
(Coordinator, Environmental Microbiology)
Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden (IPF) / Dr. Klaus-Jochen Eichhorn (Analysis)
Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB) / Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter
Grossart (Aquatic Microbial Ecology)
Leibniz-Institut DSMZ – Deutsche Sammlung für Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen (DSMZ) /
Prof. Dr. Jörg Overmann (Director)
Leibniz-Institut für Naturstoff-Forschung und Infektionsbiologie, Hans-Knöll-Institut (HKI) /
Prof. Dr. Axel A. Brakhage (Director)
Universität Aarhus, Dänemark / Dr. Jakob Strand (Marine Ecology)
Universität Bayreuth / Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch (Animal Ecology)
Universität Greifswald / Prof. Dr. Thomas Schweder (Marine Biotechnology)
Universität Lincoln, Großbritannien / Prof. Dr. Mark Osborn (Biotechnology)
Universität Oldenburg / Dr. Barbara Scholz-Böttcher (Organic Analysis)
Universität Rostock / PD Dr. Stefan Forster (Marine Biology)
Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung Bremerhaven / Dr. Gunnar Gerdts
(Microbial Ecology)
PD Dr. Matthias Labrenz, Department Biological Oceanography, IOW
(Tel.: +49 (381) / 5197 387, E-mail: [email protected])
Dr. Barbara Hentzsch, Press Relations, IOW
(Tel.: +49 (381) / 5197 102, Email: [email protected])
Nils Ehrenberg, Press Relations, IOW
(Tel.: +49 (381) / 5197 106, Email: [email protected])
The IOW is a member of the Leibniz Association to which 89 research
institutes and scientific infrastructure facilities for research currently
belong. The focus of the Leibniz Institutes ranges from Natural,
Engineering and Environmental Science to Economic, Social, and
Space Sciences and to the humanities. The institutes are jointly
financed at the state and national levels. The Leibniz Institutes
employ a total of 17.200 people, of whom 8.200 are scientists, of
which 3.300 are junior scientists. The total budget of the Institutes is
more than 1.5 billion Euros. Third-party funds amount to
approximately € 330 million per year.