Microplastics are an emerging pollutant of concern, with an increasing prevalence of microplastics being reported in water bodies across the globe. Understanding the source, transport and fate of microplastics in the aquatic environment is important to assess the risk these particles pose, and to devise and evaluate the use of different strategies to reduce their impact.
However, such progress is hampered by the lack of standardised methodologies for the monitoring of microplastics. While visual inspection is often used this suffers from misidentification errors (when natural materials in the environment are difficult to differentiate from microplastics) and it is time consuming to conduct microscopy counts. Recently, an impedance based microplastics protocol was demonstrated for larger microplastics which was able to successfully differentiate microplastics from other materials in water samples, while simultaneously counting and sizing the particles. The high-throughput automated nature of this technique is ideal for ease-of-use in water monitoring.
Another important aspect of the role of microplastics as aquatic pollutants is their role in the transportation of pathogens and the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) (both biological pollutants), described as the provision of a plastisphere. Detection methods for microplastics should also incorporate analysis of plastisphere, identifying the presence of pathogens and existence of AMR to investigate the processes of biofilm, and AMR, development on microplastics in the natural environment. While various technologies have been trialled to explore these issues many knowledge gaps remain, and combinations of emerging and existing techniques are required to make progress on this complex problem.
The aims and objectives of this project are:
· Develop a microfluidics-based solution to sort microplastics by size
· Utilise impedance monitoring to provide particle counts and compare performance against existing methods
· Investigate the prevalence of microplastics in different catchments (national scale) and within different aquatic compartments (water, sediment, biofilm)
· Determine association of different pathogens and AMR with microplastics and how pathogen/AMR load is affected by microplastics size, shape and material
· Adapt existing lysis and DNA extraction cartridge designs to optimize a microfluidic solution for the analysis of plastisphere samples