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We’re studying cells and classification. We got really excited about the biofilms being studied.

Posted on November 06 2012

Question submitted by The Packer Collegiate Institute

Hello Packer Collegiate Institute,

I think it is awesome that you got really excited when you read about my studying of biofilms. You have asked some great questions and I’ll answer them as best I can.

Are the bacteria found expected to be from the domain Archae since they may be “eating” plastic?

This is my second research expedition looking at these biofilms and from the first expeditions samples, I think it is safe to say that all three domains are involved in these biofilm communities.  The research team that I’m part of has been using a Scanning Electron Microscope to look at the surface of these biofilms and have seen Eukaryotes as well as single cellular structures. Many times in biofilm formation there needs to be a natural progression of successional organisms colonizing the substrate. Sometimes a particular microorganism cannot live without another being present first.

Greg Boyd scrapes biofilm off of a tether ball found floating in an area of floating plastic debris.

Did you hypothesize that a new strain from domain bacteria have evolved to use plastic for energy?

I think that these microorganisms have evolved to utilize this plastic marine debris for their benefit. Plastic has only been around for the last 60 years or so, and bacteria are very quick to adapt to changing environments. Although no published data have been produced to definitively say bacteria are metabolizing the plastic for energy, I think that due to the abundance of plastic particles being colonized by microorganisms, it is providing some selective advantage that could save them energy.

Hands gloved so as not to contaminate his sample, Greg Boyd puts the biofilm into a centrifuge tube.

Answers provided by Greg Boyd

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