Minerals in the Plastisphere: influence on biological interactions and plastic degradation

The Plastisphere hosts a complex biofilm constructed of bacteria, fungi, organic debris, minerals, metals, and salts that influences the transport of plastic particles, and harbors colonizers and plastic-degrading microorganisms. This study will explore the role of the Plastisphere minerals and metals to track plastic influence on biological processes and to probe pathways of plastic stability or degradation in the coastal marine environment. Read more on this here: Carlsberg Foundation

This active project is funded by Carlsberg Foundation´s Semper Ardens: Accelerate.

Importance of extracellular DNA for evolution: a missing link?

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of extracellular DNA preserved on surfaces have an unappreciated potential to influence evolution of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The transfer of extrinsic DNA stored on surfaces remains poorly understood. This understudied evolutionary pathway represents a missing link to understanding evolutionary processes at the root of modern challenges, from environmental pollution to human health. We find that a strong understanding of how surface-facilitated HGT contributes to heritable variation, both in nature and within the body will advance our insight to how both bacterial resistance and cancer therapy resistance arise and may be managed.

This project starts May 2024 and is funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation´s Exploratory Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme to Karina Krarup Sand, Emma Hammarlund, Nicole Posth, and Liselotte Jauffred (EGC). 

Gene transfer in the Plastisphere

Experiment deployment Kalø Vig, Denmark

The spread of antibiotic resistance genes (ARg) is a worldwide health risk. Vast reservoirs of ARg are found in environments like soils, sediments and oceans, and are propagated surprisingly quickly – at a rate enhanced by concurrent presence of heavy metals. ARg are efficiently distributed between bacteria through horizontal gene transfer (HGT), where one species acquires resistance through gene transfer from other resistant bacteria. ARg-HGT is understood to occur through direct microbe-microbe contact. ARg acquisition through extracellular DNA shed to the environment is not traditionally considered effective due to fast DNA degradation in the environment. Recent findings, however, suggest that DNA adsorption to minerals can preserve DNA up to million years timescales. Our recent work on the biogeochemical processes associated with plastic debris in coastal Scandinavia, Vietnam, and Tanzania shows rapid Plastisphere formation composed of microbes, but also organic matter, metals, minerals and salts reflective of the host environment. Here, we explore the potential role of the plastic-mineral-microbe interface as a hotspot of ARg-HGT with a combined field (Kalø Vig, Denmark) and laboratory approach. Our collaborators on this project are Karina Sand and Saghar Hendiani (UCPH-Globe Institute), and Katrine Juul Andresen (Geoscience, Aarhus University). For more details

This active project is funded by Geocenter Danmark. 

The role of marine fungi in coastal carbon cycling and storage: mechanisms and implications for plastic in the estuarine ecosystem

Scouting deployment sites, Skallingen

Plastic pollution is an enduring global environmental threat. In coastal zones, impact of this contaminant on ecosystem health coincides with climate-related stressors that perturb the carbon cycle. Fungi are universal degraders of carbon compounds, and aquatic fungi have evolved complex ability to access and transport dissolved and particulate organic substrates. While fungi have been identified in coastal water, sediment and on plastics, their carbon uptake and storage remain understudied. Here, we determine the identity and function of aquatic fungi in Danish estuaries. Microscopic and isotopic methods will inform on the mechanisms of fungal plastic biodegradation and carbon storage in the Danish coastal ecosystem.

This active project is funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark (Research Project 1).  


Cycling in the Plastisphere: the biogeochemical fate of marine (micro)plastics

Fyens Hoved, Denmark

Marine plastic pollution is a new global challenge influencing environmental health, the maritime economy and carbon cycling. Biofilm found on marine plastic implies that a new ecological niche has formed, referred to as the Plastisphere. In this project, we study biogeochemical cycling associated with this marine plastic debris. Our focus is to understand the microbe-plastic interface to expand our knowledge about how marine plastic and microorganisms interact over spatial and temporal scales in marine waters and sediment.

Together with our collaborators at Aarhus University, Stockholm University, UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, and the Mads Clausen Institute – SDU –  NanoSyd, we explore how microbes degrade, transport and incorporate (micro)plastic into biogeochemical cycles via microbial community studies, biofilm imaging, and element analysis.

This active project is funded by the VILLUM FONDEN Young Investigator Programme.

Cleaning waste with waste: using bio-based industrial sidestreams to remove micro- and nanoplastic from water bodies

Micro- and nanoplastic are one of the emerging pollutants in water bodies with potential consequences for environment and organismal health. Current water treatment plants are not always effective in removing the small plastic particles and there has been minimum effort in developing in situ remediation. This project will develop an unconventional way of removing micro- and nanoplastic from water using bio-based industrial sidestreams. We hypothesized that intermolecular interaction between the small plastic particles and the bio-based waste materials can be utilized for remediation purpose.

This active project is funded by the VILLUM FONDEN’s VILLUM Experiment to Demi T. Djajadi.

An anthropogenic archive of plastic pollution in Greenland (RECORD)

Plastic has become a common feature in the world’s ocean that many studies indicate there is no pristine marine realm left. Since the 1950s, the production, variety, usage and disposal of plastics have increased enormously. From an estimated 8 MT of plastic that enter the ocean every year, global surveys show 99% remain unaccounted for.  A portion of the missing plastic is in the form of microplastics, which may be entrapped by natural processes, i.e., sediment deposition, mineral and biological aggregation. Associations with microorganisms could provide a better understanding on the environmental fate of microplastics and their pathways to burial.
This project is divided in 1) Generate a record of microplastics in Greenland as an indication of the Anthropocene footprint in the Arctic by comparing a pre- and post-plastic boom period in deep-sea sediments and glacial ice, and 2) The biogeochemical analyses of the cores to explore the degradation or preservation of plastics at the sink.

This active project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801199 (EU-TALENT).

Testing novel proxies for reconstructing coral reef responses to ancient climate changes

Understanding how coral reefs have responded to past climate changes is critical to predict and manage their response to current and future warming. Fossil corals drilled from ancient reef deposits  including all major reef-building taxa offer continuous, well-dated records of this biological response to environment change spanning hundreds of thousands of years. Over the past decades, morphological, isotopic, and elemental analyses of fossil coral cores have provided ground-breaking insights about past climates, ocean dynamics, and coral reef biology. However, the established methods have only scratched the surface of the wealth of information this material holds. New methodological developments are needed to unlock the full potential of fossil coral core records.
This project aims to facilitate novel insights into how coral reefs have responded to past climate changes at the genetic, population, and ecosystem levels. To achieve this, we test three cutting-edge proxies – ancient DNA, geochemical biomarkers, and stable isotope
analysis – in the study of fossil coral cores.
This is an Early Career Support grant to Ana Prohaska (Globe Institute), and in collaboration with her along with Rachel Lupien (Aarhus University).

This active project is funded by Geocenter Danmark. 

MAriNe microplastic: Biota driven Transport and community Level Effects (MANTLE)

Protection goals for environmental risk assessment and management focus on the population, community and ecosystem level. Knowledge of the effects of microplastics (MPs) at these levels of biological organization, particularly under environmentally realistic settings, remains limited.  This project assesses how key biological processes influence the distribution and effects of different types of MPs in marine ecosystems. Specific team objectives focus on: weathering and biofilm formation on plastics, the effects of microplastic on plankton and benthos communities under environmentally realistic scenarios, the role of zooplankton faecal pellets in the vertical flux of microplastics (bentho-pelagic coupling), the uptake of different MP types in both natural plankton communities and key benthic species, the distribution of different MP types among environmental compartments (water, sediment and biota), and integration of these measures in a MP mass balance for a whole system. Experiments will be carried out at the Umeå Marine Research Center´s Mesocosm facility by a consortia of researchers from: Roskilde University, DTU Aqua, DTU Environment, UCPH-IGN, the National Museum of Denmark, Aalborg University, and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

This project was funded by EU H2020-INFRIA-AQUACOSM-plus (Project No 871081) to consortia PI Annemette Palmqvist (RUC).

Plastics from source to sink: Exploring transport pathways and fate of plastic waste in coastal waters (TRACE)

The environmental fate of plastic in the marine environment remains unresolved. In particular, the connection between the political and socio-economic circumstances resulting in the release of plastic into the environment and the transport of the plastic to temporary and long-term sinks remain undefined.
In this project, we focus on the estuarine and coastal environment of Tanzania to trace the pathway of plastic from source to sink considering socio-economic and political drivers, transport and degradation dynamics, and the development of cost-effective methods for the quantification of plastics in hotspot areas.

This project was funded by Geocenter Danmark. 


Plastic Debris Hotspots: societal and physical drivers of massive plastic pollution (PlasticHotspot)

Dinh River outlet, Vietnam

Plastic waste in the environment is a global problem, with certain regions contributing strongly to total plastic pollution. Vietnam, along with China, Indonesia and the Philippines, belong to five focus countries for action to combat plastic pollution (Ocean Conservancy & McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, 2015). In this light, the coastal environment of Vietnam represents a global hotspot of marine plastic debris. What physical and biogeochemical features, along with the socio-political tapestry, contribute to this massive plastic pollution? Can best practice approaches be developed to reduce and remediate plastic impact on the environment and society?

Together with collaborators at IGN-University of Copenhagen, GEUS-Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, and the Institute of Oceanography, Vietnam Academy  of Science & Technology, we are studying how political, social and (biogeo)physical circumstances combine to result in, and potentially combat, extreme plastic pollution in hotspot areas.

This project was funded by Geocenter Danmark. 

Plastic in Groundwater (GROPLA)

Nanoplastic is an emerging pollutant. Very little is known about its fate and transport characteristics in the environment. We hypothesize that its small size enables it to be transported into the subsurface via colloidal facilited transport or by passing through porous media along preferential flow paths. This behavior poses a potential threat to groundwater and the potential contamination of drinking water resources. This research project therefore aims to enhance understanding of Nanoplastic transport in the subsurface under a variety of environmental relevant porous media conditions.

This project was funded by the VILLUM FONDEN´s VILLUM Experiment to Sascha Müller. 

Reviving the Dead: Nanocatalytic Microbial Methanation of the North Sea Abandoned Oil

North Sea oil platforms are being closed down over the next decades. The abandonment process is part of a global energy transition that will define the next century as we move towards green and sustainable sources. In this project, we explore microbial methanogenesis linked to hydrocarbons with a focus on the potential role of nanoparticle catalysts in reaction rates.

This Radical Innovation Sprint was funded by the Danish Hydrocarbon Research & Technology Centre (DHRTC).   

Bacterial C-isotope fractionation in stratified lakes: tracking organic C production and diagenesis 

Anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria are considered one of the earliest evolved organisms on Earth because of their phylogenic antiquity and their ability to metabolize iron and sulfur using light energy.

Purple sulfur bacteria inhabit the chemocline of euxinic Lake Cadagno. Photo: L. Robertson

Iron and sulfur were abundant on early Earth, so their oxidation states and isotopic signatures in the rock record may be used to understand the rise of oxygen on Earth. Anoxygenic phototrophs likely dominated aquatic environments for billions of years on ancient Earth before our planet transitioned from oxygen-poor to oxygen-rich. I wish to understand the role of anoxygenic phototrophs in the carbon cycle today to better interpret the potential markers of this metabolism in ancient sediment.

I have been working at stratified lakes rich in dissolved iron or sulfur and anoxygenic phototrophs. 3 billion years ago aquatic environments such as these covered the Earth, but because dissolved Fe and sulfide will easily oxidize, today´s atmosphere makes these locations rather rare. One such lake is the euxinic Lake Cadagno, Switzerland and another is the ferruginous Lake La Cruz, Spain.  Here, I study the carbon isotope ratio in bacterial biomass and determine the isotope fractionation between the particulate organic carbon and dissolved inorganic carbon in the water column, sediment material and sediment. These isotopic values in the environment are compared to pure cultures of anoxygenic phototrophs cultivated from these lakes in order to understand the contribution of each bacterial community member to the bulk isotope ratio. By linking in situ experiments at the lakes to lab experiments with pure strain bacterial isolates, I am exploring the preservation potential of bacterial isotope signatures.

This work was carried out at NordCEE-SDU and was funded in part by a DFG Postdoctoral Fellowship [PO-1624/1-1] and a Marie-Curie Individual grant – BioCTrack [330064].

The role of microorganisms in the deposition of Precambrian Banded Iron Formations

3.0 billion year old Banded iron formation, White Mfolozi Gorge, South Africa

Besides their economic value, banded iron formations (BIFs) are studied as potential archives of the Precambrian environment. The mechanism of their deposition is enigmatic. I have been interested in understanding and constraining the role that microorganisms may have played in BIF deposition. As the Earth was anoxic until the Great Oxidation Event ca 2.45 to 2.32 Ga, the investigation of O2-independent mechanisms for banded iron formation deposition has been extremely relevant to understand the interplay between life and the evolution of the rock record.
Over the past years, I have explored the long-standing proposition that Archean banded iron formations may have been formed, and diagenetically modified, by anaerobic microbial metabolisms. To do this, I have carried out isotope, eco-physiological and phylogeny studies, molecular and mineral marker analysis, and sedimentological reconstructions. One very exciting experimental result has been the development of a model for BIF deposition which explains the alternating precipitation of the Fe-rich and Si-rich layers via abiotic and biotic processes triggered by temperature changes (Posth et al., Nature Geoscience, 2008).

This work was carried out in the Kappler Lab (Uni Tuebingen) and in part funded by a DFG Postdoctoral Fellowship [PO-1624/1-1 and PO-1624/1-2].