This experiment is part of the Microplastics Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Eastern oyster vs. harmful bacteria, global climate change, and microplastics: Who wins?

University of Hartford
Meridian, Mississippi
DOI: 10.18258/68924
Grant: Microplastics
Days Left
  • $5,006
  • 108%
  • 5
    days left

About This Project

Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, are a keystone species and a focal aquaculture species. These bivalves consume large amounts of microplastics (MP’s) as they filter surrounding waters for food. Microbes can colonize the surface of MP’s, including human pathogens of the genus Vibrio, which can then be transmitted to humans when oyster are consumed raw. This project aims to explore MP’s as a vector for human pathogens under projected climate change scenarios.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Eastern oyster are currently facing a suite of challenges. Changes in temperature, pH and salinity are negatively impacting their physiology and immune function, making them more susceptible to disease. Microplastics (MP’s) are now considered the most prevalent form of marine debris, and have been shown to impair oyster filtration efficiency and reproduction. Pathogenic bacteria (harmful to human; of the genus Vibrio) have been found on the “plastisphere”; the microbial community that forms on MP debris. Projected environmental scenarios model expansion of bacterial ranges. Oyster are becoming more susceptible to bacteria, which can colonize MP’s. Our project will explore if Vibrio can use microplastics as a vector to infect the Eastern Oyster, increasing human infection rates.

What is the significance of this project?

Given the important role oysters play both as a keystone species and as a focal aquaculture species, it is critical to explore how climate change projections impact the physiology of Crassostrea virginica; how these projections might influence microplastic (MP's) ingestion in this bivalve, and finally, if MP's serve as a disease vector for a known human pathogen. The answers to these questions will provide data on how Eastern oyster may fare in a projected estuarine environment, how MP's (specifically, monofilament fishing line and polyester/nylon threads) might impact their physiology, leading to impacts on oyster population numbers and finally, the suitability of oyster of a human food source under GCC scenarios with expanded bacterial ranges.

What are the goals of the project?

We will build on our pilot work exploring biofilm formation on microplastics (MP's). We will inoculate MP's with three strains of bacteria: Vibrio parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus, and V. cholerae and measure biofilm formation at 3, 5 and 7-days to discern the idealized incubation time.

These Vibrio-colonized MP’s will then be added to our experimental system. Oyster are housed in a series of tanks mimicking projected environmental scenarios of the year 2300. We are currently exploring the interaction of elevated temperature (20°C to 27°C) and ocean acidification (400µatm to 2000µatm). At 7, 14, and 28-days of exposure, oyster will be removed from the system, hemolymph extracted, and microplastic counts of ingested particles will be performed.


Please wait...

My lab has completed pilot work where we have effectively quantified the biofilm formed on microplastics by bacteria naturally found in seawater. The next steps in our research is to explore how pathogenic Vibrio species (V. parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus, and V. cholerae) are able to colonize microplastics and if that results in an increased transmission rate in Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica under projected climate change scenarios. This requires exposing oyster to Vibrio-colonized microplastics while under environmental conditions, extracting hemolymph (i.e. oyster “blood”), and plating the hemolymph on a media (CHROMagar) that selects specifically for Vibrio species. In order to discern if our bacteria are found in greater densities, we sample oyster brought into the lab for Vibrio and other common oyster diseases to ensure levels are below detection before beginning experimentation.

Endorsed by

I am really excited to have been given the opportunity to work on my honors thesis to analyze how ocean acidification and Vibrio can affect eastern oysters now and in the future. Performing this experiment is vital in understanding how these factors interact with eastern oysters. As my undergraduate comes to an end, Dr. Enzor's support has been invaluable these last three years and I am looking forward to completing my last experiment next year.
I am really excited about the opportunity to work on my honors thesis to analyze the anthropogenic pressures the eastern oyster face today, and will face in the future. Understanding these interactions are vital if we hope to conserve the bloodlines of our coast; the estuary ecosystem. My undergraduate experience has been greatly enriched by working with Dr. Enzor the past three years and I look forward to working on my last project in the Enzor lab this fall.

Project Timeline

All work will be performed from September, 2024-May, 2025. Given the hefty reproductive investment of oyster, we must perform our experiments outside of their reproductive window, which is June-August.

May 05, 2024

Project Launched

Sep 30, 2024

Build upon pilot work and determine the idealized incubation time for Vibrio to colonize microplastics. This will require students to perform 2-3 pilot studies of 5-7 days

Oct 15, 2024

Travel to coast, collect oyster. Acclimate in lab (2 weeks) and collect hemolymph to ensure the oyster are disease-free. Students assist with feeding and water quality

Oct 31, 2024

Set up experimental system and prepare for experiment; this will involve all students

Oct 31, 2024

Incubate microplastics in seawater, followed by Vibrio inoculation (specific times will be determined by pilot work)

Meet the Team

Laura Enzor
Laura Enzor
Assistant Professor of Biology


University of Hartford
View Profile

Team Bio

My two research students (Sean Isaac and Tyler Mendela) have both been working in my lab since they were freshman. Both Sean and Tyler will complete their honors theses work with me in Fall 2024; this project will provide data for both of their Honors Research Projects.

Laura Enzor

My research centers around questions in the field of ecological physiology; how an organism uses its physiology to adapt to its environment and what form these adaptations may take. Specifically, I examine both the whole organism and cellular-level responses to anthropogenic climate change factors (temperature, acidification, hypoxia and salinity), and strive to answer questions of what short-term physiological adjustments organisms must undergo to cope with a changing environment, and potentially identify long-term adaptations. I work with aquatic organisms from marine and brackish environments, and explore how stress response pathways, energy demands, and acid-base homeostasis are impacted by both environmental and seasonal changes these organisms must face.

Additional Information

Please see lab note detailing our experimental system

Project Backers

  • 3Backers
  • 108%Funded
  • $5,006Total Donations
  • $1,668.67Average Donation
Please wait...

See Your Scientific Impact

You can help a unique discovery by joining 3 other backers.
Fund This Project