Environmental microbiology. 2023-12-01; 25.12: 2761-2775.

Plastics select for distinct early colonizing microbial populations with reproducible traits across environmental gradients

Bos RP, Kaul D, Zettler ER, Hoffman JM, Dupont CL, Amaral-Zettler LA, Mincer TJ

PMID: 37132662


Little is known about early plastic biofilm assemblage dynamics and successional changes over time. By incubating virgin microplastics along oceanic transects and comparing adhered microbial communities with those of naturally occurring plastic litter at the same locations, we constructed gene catalogues to contrast the metabolic differences between early and mature biofilm communities. Early colonization incubations were reproducibly dominated by Alteromonadaceae and harboured significantly higher proportions of genes associated with adhesion, biofilm formation, chemotaxis, hydrocarbon degradation and motility. Comparative genomic analyses among the Alteromonadaceae metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) highlighted the importance of the mannose-sensitive hemagglutinin (MSHA) operon, recognized as a key factor for intestinal colonization, for early colonization of hydrophobic plastic surfaces. Synteny alignments of MSHA also demonstrated positive selection for mshA alleles across all MAGs, suggesting that mshA provides a competitive advantage for surface colonization and nutrient acquisition. Large-scale genomic characteristics of early colonizers varied little, despite environmental variability. Mature plastic biofilms were composed of predominantly Rhodobacteraceae and displayed significantly higher proportions of carbohydrate hydrolysis enzymes and genes for photosynthesis and secondary metabolism. Our metagenomic analyses provide insight into early biofilm formation on plastics in the ocean and how early colonizers self-assemble, compared to mature, phylogenetically and metabolically diverse biofilms.