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

Investigating the roles of microbes in biodegrading or colonizing microplastic surfaces

Raised of $10,000 Goal
Funded on 5/22/24
Successfully Funded
  • $10,005
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 5/22/24

About This Project

Recently, we observed different PCB adsorption onto microplastic surfaces in Newtown Creek compared to Navy Yard in NYC. The microbial communities at these sites, characterized by 16S rRNA sequencing, show significant differences. We hypothesize that these distinct communities may lead to different biodegradation rates of PCBs on the particle surfaces in the two locations. To address this important question, the metatranscriptomic analysis will be conducted in the proposed work.

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What is the context of this research?

Our current data indicate that bacterial taxa are differentially associated with microplastics in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Newtown Creek, highlighting the impact of localized environmental factors, such as nutrient availability and the presence of methane, on these communities. Regardless of the plastic type, there was an increase in the relative abundance of certain microbes. While mycobacteria may contribute to the degradation of plastic debris in coastal environments, their presence on microplastic particles can also negatively affect coastal ecosystems. This can inhibit the growth of bacteria capable of degrading PCBs and pharmaceuticals.

What is the significance of this project?

While 16S rRNA sequencing provides us with valuable data on the composition of these microbial communities, it does not extend to the functional aspects of their existence. Therefore, there is a need to delve into the realm of metatranscriptomics. This approach can shed light on the active genes and the metabolic pathways they encode within the microbial community. With this information, we can begin to unravel whether these microorganisms are playing a role in the breakdown of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, PCBs, or the microplastics themselves.

What are the goals of the project?

The overall goal of this project is to examine the activities of microbes on the plastic surface and to determine whether the plastic surface plays a significant role in shielding associated pollutants.


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There are 4 samples (2 sites X two plastic types) for metatranscriptomic analysis. We need to do 3 technical replicates for each of the 4 samples, which would mean 12 sequenced samples. In that case, the cost would be $10,240. This
includes bioinformatics analysis by the sequencing company, with our
team replicating it to verify its accuracy. In this request, we only asked for $10,000, which will be around $ 8800 after paying 8% platform fee and the 5% payment processing fee. The remaining $1440 will come from PI Yan’s green money that he has saved in his institute.

Endorsed by

This crucial study will bridge an important gap in knowledge about microbial colonizers of microplastics in our waterways, their role in degradation of microplastics and the potential threats that bacterial communities not only to aquatic life forms, but to humans as well. I am super excited that a formidable has come forward to undertake this study that is crucial for mitigating microplastic pollution of our waterways and water bodies.

Project Timeline

The analysis will be conducted within two months. Undergraduate and high school summer interns will begin to analyze these data under the supervision of Dr. Connors. Student poster presentations will be arranged toward the end of this summer, and a final report will be drafted by the end of the first year.

Apr 22, 2024

Project Launched

May 31, 2024

Prepare samples

Jun 15, 2024

Metatranscriptomic analysis

Jul 26, 2024

Data analysis

Aug 10, 2024

Poster presentation at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Meet the Team

Beizhan Yan
Beizhan Yan
Lamont Associate Research Professor


Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
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Bernadette Connors
Bernadette Connors

Beizhan Yan

Dr. Beizhan Yan received his Ph.D. in 2004 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, NY and currently, he is a Lamont Associate Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) of Columbia University. In 2007, he joined LDEO, and since then, he has established an Environmental Organic Geochemistry Lab from scratch with the ability to extract, isolate, and identify organic contaminants and biomarkers from environmental and biological samples. He is leading collaborative studies in measuring the microplastic and nanoplastics in NYC waterways and air and characterizing their exposures, and linking exposures to various adverse health outcomes, including neurodegeneration diseases.

Bernadette Connors

Dr. Bernadette Connors received her Ph.D. in 2002 from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. In 2009, she joined Dominican University New York, and since then, has continued to use next-generation sequencing to identify microbial populations in surface waters and creekbed sediments. She has trained undergraduates in NGS analysis, which has led to several student-authored publications.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

The samples have been stored at -80 degrees Celsius and are ready for metatranscriptomic analysis.

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $10,005Total Donations
  • $5,002.50Average Donation
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