The primary molecular influences of marine plastisphere formation and function: Novel insights into organism -organism and -co-pollutant interactions

Charlotte E. Lee, Lauren F. Messer, Sophie Holland, Tony Gutierrez, Richard S. Quilliam, Sabine Matallana-Surget*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Marine plastic pollution is rapidly colonized by a biofilm of microorganisms associated with the control of biogeochemical cycles, plastic biodegradation, and potentially pathogenic activities. An extensive number of studies have described the taxonomic composition of this biofilm, referred to as the ‘plastisphere’, and previous reviews have reported on the influence of location, plastic type, and plastic-biodegradation ability on plastisphere formation. However, few studies have investigated the metabolic activity of this complex biofilm and how microbial pathogenicity and bioremediation could be regulated in this ecosystem. In this review, we highlight the understudied molecular and abiotic factors influencing plastisphere formation and microbial functioning beyond taxonomic description. In this context, we critically discuss the impacts of (i) organism-organism interaction, (ii) microbial cell wall composition, and (iii) commonly encountered plastic-bound co-pollutants (heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, UV filters). For the first time, we review the anticipated impact of lipophilic organic UV-filters – found in plastic additives and sunscreens – on the plastisphere due to their reported affinity for plastics, persistence, and co-location at high concentrations in touristic coastal environments. Herein, we integrate the findings of 34 global studies exploring plastisphere composition, 35 studies quantifying co-pollutant concentrations, and draw upon 52 studies of cell -cell and -substrate interaction to deduce the inferred, yet still unknown, metabolic interactions within this niche. Finally, we provide novel future directions for the advancement of functional plastisphere research applying advanced molecular tools to new, and appropriate research questions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-161
Number of pages24
JournalCritical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2024


  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • plastisphere dynamics
  • Bacterial metabolism
  • plastic colonization
  • plastic biodegradation
  • marine pollution
  • Jörg Rinklebe and Lena Q. Ma
  • microbial ecotoxicology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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