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UConn Group Looks to Bivalves and Bacteria as Potential Cleanup Tool for Microplastics

  • University of Connecticut researcher studying whether bivalves can be used to remove microplastics from marine environments
  • Microplastics contain toxic materials and can cause harm to aquatic life
  • Bivalves have been regarded as useful for water filtration, but little research has been done on their relationship to microplastics

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

A group of University of Connecticut professors is undertaking a four-year research effort to determine if suspension-feeding bivalves such as oysters and clams could be used to remove harmful microplastics from the ocean.

The researchers are studying whether mussels can be successfully paired with microplastic-degrading bacteria to filter microplastics from the water discharged from wastewater treatment plants. The research is being funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic measuring less than five millimeters long, either by design or due to the breakdown of larger plastics. In marine environments, the toxic components in microplastics can cause harm to animals who ingest them.

Bivalves have long been regarded as a potential tool for removing pollutants from waterways. Their use in eliminating microplastics has not been researched as thoroughly, although a 2020 study confirmed that bivalves can be a good environmental monitor for identifying microplastics contamination.

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