Understanding and Reducing the Harmful Effects of Plastic

Project Team

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.

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

Project poster.