Microplastics accumulate fungal pathogens in terrestrial ecosystems

authored by
Gerasimos Gkoutselis, Stephan Rohrbach, Janno Harjes, Martin Obst, Andreas Brachmann, Marcus A Horn, Gerhard Rambold

Microplastic (MP) is a pervasive pollutant in nature that is colonised by diverse groups of microbes, including potentially pathogenic species. Fungi have been largely neglected in this context, despite their affinity for plastics and their impact as pathogens. To unravel the role of MP as a carrier of fungal pathogens in terrestrial ecosystems and the immediate human environment, epiplastic mycobiomes from municipal plastic waste from Kenya were deciphered using ITS metabarcoding as well as a comprehensive meta-analysis, and visualised via scanning electron as well as confocal laser scanning microscopy. Metagenomic and microscopic findings provided complementary evidence that the terrestrial plastisphere is a suitable ecological niche for a variety of fungal organisms, including important animal and plant pathogens, which formed the plastisphere core mycobiome. We show that MPs serve as selective artificial microhabitats that not only attract distinct fungal communities, but also accumulate certain opportunistic human pathogens, such as cryptococcal and Phoma-like species. Therefore, MP must be regarded a persistent reservoir and potential vector for fungal pathogens in soil environments. Given the increasing amount of plastic waste in terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, this interrelation may have severe consequences for the trans-kingdom and multi-organismal epidemiology of fungal infections on a global scale.

Institute of Microbiology
External Organisation(s)
University of Bayreuth
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU)
Scientific reports
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 15 - Life on Land
Electronic version(s)
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-92405-7 (Access: Open)