Hunting for pigments in bacterial settlers of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch


Environ Microbiol. 2024 Jun;26(6):e16639. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.16639.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a significant collection of plastic introduced by human activities, provides an ideal environment to study bacterial lifestyles on plastic substrates. We proposed that bacteria colonizing the floating plastic debris would develop strategies to deal with the ultraviolet-exposed substrate, such as the production of antioxidant pigments. We observed a variety of pigmentation in 67 strains that were directly cultivated from plastic pieces sampled from the Garbage Patch. The genomic analysis of four representative strains, each distinct in taxonomy, revealed multiple pathways for carotenoid production. These pathways include those that produce less common carotenoids and a cluster of photosynthetic genes. This cluster appears to originate from a potentially new species of the Rhodobacteraceae family. This represents the first report of an aerobic anoxygenic photoheterotrophic bacterium from plastic biofilms. Spectral analysis showed that the bacteria actively produce carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, and bacteriochlorophyll a. Furthermore, we discovered that the genetic ability to synthesize carotenoids is more common in plastic biofilms than in the surrounding water communities. Our findings suggest that plastic biofilms could be an overlooked source of bacteria-produced carotenoids, including rare forms. It also suggests that photoreactive molecules might play a crucial role in bacterial biofilm communities in surface water.

PMID:38899733 | DOI:10.1111/1462-2920.16639