While working as a doctoral student at the at Arizona State University, Kassandra Dudek studied the phenomenon of microplastics serving as . Bacteria are known to form along these materials, building up stable, complex communities. Dudek’s intended to find out whether certain types of bacteria have preference for settling on certain types of plastic. This could for example influence the movement of pathogens through the environment. It is also relevant because only certain types of bacteria are thought to be able to () certain types of plastic.
The study showed that the five types of plastic tested, all deriving from common household waste items, did not show any detectable differences in the types of bacteria found colonizing their surfaces. This suggests that it is the physical surface of plastic that quickly attracts bacterial settlers, rather than any chemical features of the specific plastics tested.
However, the researchers also noted that microscopic photosynthetic algae known as did show strong preferences for just 1 or 2 types of plastic polymer, and that diatoms needed to be exposed to plastic for a lot longer than bacteria in order to colonize the plastic surface. This is significant because earlier research showed that bacteria that could degrade plastic are often found associated with diatoms. It also shows the importance of long-term experiments, as these diatoms could not be detected on the plastic surface until after several weeks of exposure.