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Water pollution due to microplastics (MPs) is recognized as a major anthropogenic impact. Once MPs reach the ecosystems, they are exposed to a variety of other pollutants, which can be sorbed on them, transported and eventually desorbed. In this work, we tested the hypothesis that MPs can behave as conveyors for delivering chemicals toxic to aquatic microorganisms by investigating the vector role of MPs of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polylactic acid (PLA), polyoxymethylene (POM) and polystyrene (PS) to the macrolide antibiotics azithromycin (AZI) and clarithromycin (CLA). AZI and CLA were chosen, as they are included in the Watch List for EU monitoring concerning water policy by Decision (EU) 2018/840. MPs were loaded in contact with 500 μg/L of AZI or 1000 μg/L of CLA. Results showed that both antibiotics were sorbed on all tested MPs. The more hydrophobic AZI was sorbed in higher proportion than CLA. Both antibiotics were desorbed from MPs upon contact with water with percentages between 14.6 ± 2.6% for AZI and 1.9 ± 1.4% for CLA of the concentrations to which the MPs were initially exposed. Virgin MPs were not toxic to the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC7120. However, antibiotic-loaded MPs significantly inhibited the growth and chlorophyll content of the cyanobacterium. Most of the sorbed antibiotics became released upon contact with cyanobacterial cultures, which was the cause for the observed toxicity. Therefore, MPs can play a role as vectors of antibiotics in freshwaters systems affecting the basic trophic level of photosynthetic microorganisms. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Miguel González-Pleiter, Alicia Pedrouzo-Rodríguez, Irene Verdú, Francisco Leganés, Eduardo Marco, Roberto Rosal, Francisca Fernández-Piñas. Microplastics as vectors of the antibiotics azithromycin and clarithromycin: Effects towards freshwater microalgae. Chemosphere. 2021 Apr;268:128824

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PMID: 33176914

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