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Mosquitoes can introduce microplastics into new food chains

By Brooks Hays
Mosquitoes can introduce microplastics into new food chains
Mosquitoes may carry more than just disease. New research suggest the insects can contaminate new food chains with microplastic pollution. Photo by jg/aj/Jack Leonard/New Orleans Mosquito Control Board/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Mosquitoes can ingest microplastics and carry them into new food chains and ecosystems, according to a new study.

"By studying mosquitoes, we have found a previously unknown way for plastic to pollute the environment and contaminate the food chain," Amanda Callaghan and Rana Al-jaibachi, both researchers at the University of Reading, wrote in a blog post for The Conversation.

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Microplastics can form as larger plastic pollution is broken down or enter the environment in the form of tiny plastic beads, found in toothpastes, face wash and other cosmetic products. Smaller organisms can mistake microplastics as food. When the smaller organisms are consumer by larger organisms, microplastics can make their way up the food chain.

Scientists have mostly focused on the movement of microplastic pollution through marine ecosystems, including the deep ocean, but the latest research -- published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters -- suggests microplastics can be introduced to land ecosystems by mosquitoes and other aquatic insects.

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"It occurred to us that aquatic insects might carry plastics out of the water if they were able to keep the plastics in their body through their development," Callaghan and Al-jaibachi wrote.

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In the lab, researchers fed fluorescent plastic beads to mosquito larvae and tracked the pollution through the different stages. The experiment confirmed microplastics can survive the mosquito's development process, from the larval stages through to adulthood. Scientists observed plastic beads in the mosquitoes' guts and liver.

"The transfer of [microplastics] to the adults represents a potential aerial pathway to contamination of new environments," researchers wrote in their newly published paper. "Thus, any organism that feeds on terrestrial life phases of freshwater insects could be impacted by [microplastics] found in aquatic ecosystems."

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