Ocean Microplastics

Maine Sea Grant funded project: 2024-2026

Role of microplastics in microbial colonization of oysters

Faculty supervisors:

Dr. Carrie J. Byron (School of Marine & Environmental Programs; cbyron@une.edu)

Dr. Kristin M. Burkholder (School of Biological Sciences; kburkholder@une.edu)

Microplastics are ocean pollutants that can be ingested by filter feeding bivalves.  Pathogens attach to buoyant microplastics, and these microplastics may aid microbial entry into marine foods. 

M.S. Project 1 will compare microplastic load in oysters reared in traditional plastic netting versus plastic-free gear.   Oysters will be reared and collected on-farm, then brought to the laboratory to extract and quantify microplastics from oyster tissues.

M.S. Project 2 will examine microplastic effect on pathogen entry into oysters. Microplastic-bacteria exposure experiments will be performed to examine the role of microplastics on microbial entry, colonization, and tissue dissemination within the oysters.

Findings from both projects will help to inform best practices in bivalve cultivation and will aid in future strategies aimed at protecting microbiological safety of marine foods.