Published: 29 January 2019 at 12:37
Plastic pollution potentially threatens future survival of this mollusc – new study
A new study shows that microplastics are affecting the ability of mussels to attach themselves to their surroundings – potentially having a devastating impact on ocean ecosystems as well as a worldwide industry worth between 3-4 billion US dollars per year.
The new research, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, was led by Dr Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University, and was carried out at the Portaferry Marine Laboratory in Northern Ireland.
The researchers found that blue mussels exposed to doses of non-biodegradable microplastics over a period of 52 days produced significantly fewer byssal threads, which are thin fibres that help mussels attach themselves to rocks and ropes.
As well as enabling mussels to survive waves and strong tides, and stay attached to their surroundings, these byssal threads also enable them to form extensive reefs that provide important habitats for other marine animals and plants.
The study also found that the overall tenacity or attachment strength of mussels exposed to microplastics, calculated by measuring the maximal vertical force required for the mussel to become dislodged from its position, fell by 50% compared to a control sample of mussels that were not exposed to microplastics.
And in order to understand potential effects of microplastics on the health of the mussels, the researchers measured the proteins within the mussel’s circulatory fluid or haemolymph, which performs a similar function to blood. This showed that microplastics induced a strong immune response and also affected the mussels’ metabolism.
Dr Green, a Senior Lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: