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This Is The reason Microplastics Are So Difficult To Recognize In The Sea

On account of significant advances in science and innovation we can now hereditarily design qualities with expanding exactness, seclude explicit proteins from cells, and precisely grouping whole genomes. So why have we been not able to build up a hearty method to distinguish microplastics?

In contrast to DNA and proteins, plastics are not alive. Here’s the reason that is basic to understanding the plastic discovery issue.

While researchers exploit the arrangements inside DNA or the liking of antibodies for explicit proteins, these strategies don’t chip away at microplastics since they are simply made of synthetic concoctions – with no proteins, DNA successions, or in any case life-related structures for researchers to use for discovery.

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A pair of hands holding microplastics collected at the beach.

Simple water filtering techniques are not the solution either. Filtering and sorting out microplastics is inefficient and carries a high risk inaccuracy since many plastics are transparent and come in many different sizes. In other words, it’s hard to separate the microplastics from the natural pieces of the environment.

Some labs use high-tech lasers or mass-spectrometers to identify plastics, but these methods are not only technically challenging, but also quite expensive.

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The difficulties of detecting marine microplastics have caused many labs around the world to develop different ways to study these plastics. While an impressive show of creativity, the many different methods make it challenging, if not outright impossible, to compare studies between labs. In other words, a consensus is needed in the world of microplastic detection and data reporting for the problem to be understood on a larger scale.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program attempted to standardize microplastic detection methods with their publication of step-by-step instructions for quantifying marine microplastics in environmental samples in 2015. NOAA’s recommended methods suggest inexpensive but laborious filtering and microscopic analysis paired with simple chemical manipulation.

In 2018, JPI-Oceans also published a “Standardized Protocol for Monitoring Microplastics in Sediments”. While this protocol also suggests size-separation and visual analyses to detect microplastics, it also recommends a deeper analysis of the microplastics using various types of spectrometry.

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A scientist loads vials into a mass spectrometer. These machines can identify microplastics.

Importantly, both of these protocols highlight the risk of contamination. With the abundance of microplastics in our everyday clothes and packaging materials, researchers must be careful to avoid adding lab-borne microplastics to their environmental samples.

While true consensus on how to detect and quantify microplastics is still being coordinated, the scientific community is nonetheless working hard to provide important data on how microplastics have infiltrated our marine world.

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