Microplastic ingestion decreases energy reserves in marine worms

Curr Biol. 2013 Dec 2;23(23):R1031-3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.068.


The indiscriminate disposal of plastic to the environment is of concern. Microscopic plastic litter (<5 mm diameter; 'microplastic') is increasing in abundance in the marine environment, originating from the fragmentation of plastic items and from industry and personal-care products [1]. On highly impacted beaches, microplastic concentrations (<1mm) can reach 3% by weight, presenting a global conservation issue [2]. Microplastics are a novel substrate for the adherence of hydrophobic contaminants [1], deposition of eggs [3], and colonization by unique bacterial assemblages [4]. Ingestion by indiscriminate deposit-feeders has been reported, yet physical impacts remain understudied [1]. Here, we show that deposit-feeding marine worms maintained in sediments spiked with microscopic unplasticised polyvinylchloride (UPVC) at concentrations overlapping those in the environment had significantly depleted energy reserves by up to 50% (Figure 1). Our results suggest that depleted energy reserves arise from a combination of reduced feeding activity, longer gut residence times of ingested material and inflammation.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eating*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Plastics / toxicity*
  • Polychaeta / drug effects*
  • Polychaeta / metabolism
  • Polyvinyl Chloride / toxicity*
  • Refuse Disposal*


  • Plastics
  • Polyvinyl Chloride