Biodegradable plastics in Mediterranean coastal environments feature contrasting microbial succession

Fons A. de Vogel, Maaike Goudriaan, Erik R. Zettler, Helge Niemann, Andreas Eich, Miriam Weber, Christian Lott, Linda A. Amaral-Zettler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Plastic pollution of the ocean is a top environmental concern. Biodegradable plastics present a potential “solution” in combating the accumulation of plastic pollution, and their production is currently increasing. While these polymers will contribute to the future plastic marine debris budget, very little is known still about the behavior of biodegradable plastics in different natural environments. In this study, we molecularly profiled entire microbial communities on laboratory confirmed biodegradable polybutylene sebacate-co-terephthalate (PBSeT) and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) films, and non-biodegradable conventional low-density polyethylene (LDPE) films that were incubated in situ in three different coastal environments in the Mediterranean Sea. Samples from a pelagic, benthic, and eulittoral habitat were taken at five timepoints during an incubation period of 22 months. We assessed the presence of potential biodegrading bacterial and fungal taxa and contrasted them against previously published in situ disintegration data of these polymers. Scanning electron microscopy imaging complemented our molecular data. Putative plastic degraders occurred in all environments, but there was no obvious “core” of shared plastic-specific microbes. While communities varied between polymers, the habitat predominantly selected for the underlying communities. Observed disintegration patterns did not necessarily match community patterns of putative plastic degraders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number172288
Number of pages20
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2024


  • Long-term incubation
  • PBSeT
  • PHB
  • Plastic biodegrading microbes
  • Plastisphere
  • Three-domain amplicon sequencing


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