Polystyrene nanoplastics cause growth inhibition, morphological damage and physiological disturbance in the marine microalga Platymonas helgolandica

Effects of nanoplastics at low level on the marine primary producer are largely unclear. To assess the potential risk of nanoplastic pollution, this study exposed marine green microalgae Platymonas helgolandica to 20, 200, and 2000 μg/L 70-nm polystyrene nanoplastics for 6 days. Nanoplastics significantly inhibited the growth of P. helgolandica during the first 4 days of exposure, and elevated heterocyst frequency was observed in 200 and 2000 μg/L exposure groups in the early exposure stage. Exposure to 200 and 2000 μg/L nanoplastics for 4 days increased the membrane permeability and mitochondrial membrane potential, and decreased light energy used in photochemical processes of microalgae. Moreover, clear morphological changes, including surface folds, fragmentation, aggregation cluster, and rupture, in the microalgae exposed to nanoplastics were observed under scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope. These results demonstrate that nanoplastics could reduce the microalgal vitality by the damage on cell morphology and organelle function.

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