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Impact of Microplastics on Gut Microbiomes

  • 10 Jul 2023
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Impact of Microplastics on Gut Microbiomes, FAO, Microplastics, Dysbiosis.

For Mains: Impact of Microplastics on Human Health and Environment.

Why in News?

Recently, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in its report “Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Human Health” highlighted that the Microplastics and nano plastics considerably impact human and animal gut microbiomes as well as the environment.

What is Gut Microbiome?

  • The gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT).
  • The gut microbiota plays an important role in nutrient and mineral absorption, synthesis of enzymes, vitamins and amino acids, and production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
    • The microbiome refers to the collection of genomes from all the microorganisms in the environment while Microbiota usually refers to microorganisms that are found within a specific environment.

What are the Key Highlights of the Report?

  • Intestinal Inflammation and Dysbiosis:
    • Exposure to plastic has led to intestinal inflammation and gut dysbiosis — changes in the gut microbiome and microbiota.
    • Microplastics act as stressors and cause inflammatory responses in the host, affecting certain microorganisms and resulting in microbial dysbiosis.
      • Dysbiosis is defined by an imbalance in bacterial composition, changes in bacterial metabolic activities, or changes in bacterial distribution within the gut.
  • Deposition in Human Body:
    • Microplastics found in water bottles and food items such as sugar, honey, sea salt, tea and others have eventually deposited in human lung tissue, placenta, stool, blood and meconium.
  • Plastics' Interaction with the Environment:
    • Plastics of hydrophobic nature can adsorb hydrophobic chemicals or persistent organic pollutants from the environment (for example, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane).
  • Impact on Organism and Metabolism:
    • Accumulation of microplastic in the gut, changes in the mucus layer and gut permeability, alterations of the mucosal structure, oxidative stress and immune response.
    • Physical abrasion of microplastic and its accumulation in the gut can lead to satiety in the organism and even reduce food consumption.
    • It may eventually lead to weight loss and metabolic changes and can also affect liver function and metabolism.
    • The severity of the impact is proportional to the concentration and particle shape of microplastics.

What is the Significance of the Findings?

  • The FAO report emphasizes the significant impact of microplastics and nanoplastics on gut microbiomes and human health.
  • Understanding the effects of plastic exposure on gut microbiomes and the environment is crucial for developing effective mitigation strategies.

What are Microplastics?

  • About:
    • They are defined as plastics less than five millimeters in diameter—smaller in diameter than the standard pearl used in jewelry. It can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life.
    • Under the influence of solar UV radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic fragments into small particles, termed microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).
    • There are two categories of microplastics: primary and secondary.
  • Classification:
    • Primary Microplastics: They are tiny particles designed for commercial use and microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles.
    • E.g Microbeads found in personal care products, plastic pellets and plastic fibres.
  • Secondary Microplastics: They are formed from the breakdown of larger plastics such as water bottles.
    • This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.

UPSC Civil Services Exam, Previous Year Questions (PYQ)

Q. Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into environment? (2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.
(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.
(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.
(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.

Ans: (a)

Source: DTE

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