Bioremediating Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2021-2022)

By 2025, we may be throwing away over 2.2 billion tons of plastics each year. Sadly, much of this plastic ends up in our oceans. Ingestion of plastics by marine species has a substantial negative impact on their health, and plastic bioaccumulation in fish can even transmit carcinogens up the food chain to our dinner plates. 

Yet, despite the staggering volume of debris produced annually and the clear environmental and human health impacts, plastic waste continues to accumulate. There is an urgent need to better understand the impact of plastic on organisms and develop novel strategies to combat bioaccumulation of plastics.

The aim of this research team was to demystify the health effects of plastic additives and validate lab-grown plastic biodegrading organisms. To tackle these goals, team members tested the carcinogenic potential of selected additives with unknown classification; identified specific genes and pathways impacted by additives to clarify how additives affect human health; depicted relations between additives of known carcinogenicity and understudied, ill-documented additives; underlined gaps between genes that are most studied and most salient to the toxic effects of additives; tested newly identified enzymes capable of rapidly degrading plastic; and found new plastic-degrading enzymes testable in the lab.

Ultimately, this team hopes that their efforts will help prevent and mitigate the harmful effects of plastic bioaccumulation.

Learn more about this project team by viewing their lightning talk at the 2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase.

Timing

Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

Team Outputs

Understanding and Reducing the Harmful Effects of Plastic (2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Plastic Additives: Understanding Threats to Human Health and Bioremediation Strategies (poster by Rita Glazer, Alex Hong, Sophia Vincoff, Newland Zhang, Jas Santos, Hailey Brighton, Sarah Plumlee and Jason A. Somarelli, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 13, 2022)

Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (Ella Gunady and Beatrice Schleupner, lightning talk at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 13, 2022)

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Teams Share Research Highlights at 2022 Showcase

Three Duke Juniors Named Barry M. Goldwater Scholars for Achievements in STEM

Meet the Members of the 2021-2022 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

See related teams, Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2022-2023) and Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity (2020-2021).

 

Image: Marine litter (a discarded plastic bottle, stranded), by Bo Eide, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Marine litter.

Team Leaders

  • Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • William Eward, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Thomas Schultz, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology

/graduate Team Members

  • Greg Merrill, Ecology-PHD
  • Margaret Morrison, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Rita Glazer, Computer Science (AB)
  • Ella Gunady, Biomedical Engineering (BSE), Biology (BS2)
  • Alexander Hong
  • Jasmine Santos
  • Beatrice Schleupner, Biology (BS)
  • Serafina Turner, Computer Science (BS)
  • Sophie Vincoff, Biomedical Engineering (BSE), Computer Science (BSE2)
  • Newland Zhang, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Hailey Brighton, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Sarah Plumlee, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Andrew Read, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools, City of Medicine Academy
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • East Durham Children's Initiative
  • Environmental Science Summer Program
  • Duke University Marine Lab
  • Dolphin Quest
  • Nicholas Institute for Enviornmental Policy Solutions
  • RTI International