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Turning microplastics into nanoplastics through digestive fragmentation by Antarctic krill

Amanda L. Dawson, So Kawaguchi, Catherine K. King, Kathy A. Townsend, Robert King, Wilhelmina M. Huston and Susan M. Bengtson Nash.


(Fluorescent Green Polyethylene: 1.025g/cc 27-32um)

Microplastics (plastics <5 mm diameter) are at the forefront of current environmental pollution research, however, little is known about the degradation of microplastics through ingestion. Here, by exposing Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) to microplastics under acute static renewal conditions, we present evidence of physical size alteration of microplastics ingested by a planktonic crustacean. Ingested microplastics (31.5µm) are fragmented into pieces less than 1 µm in diameter. Previous feeding studies have shown spherical micro-plastics either; pass unaffected through an organism and are excreted, or are sufficiently small for translocation to occur. We identify a new pathway; microplastics are fragmented into sizes small enough to cross physical barriers, or are egested as a mixture of triturated particles. These findings suggest that current laboratory-based feeding studies may be oversimplifying interactions between zooplankton and microplastics but also introduces a new role of Antarctic krill, and potentially other species, in the biogeochemical cycling and fate of plastic.