Microalgae can excrete exopolymer substances (EPS) with a potential to form hetero-aggregates with microplastic particles. In this work, two freshwater (Microcystis panniformis and Scenedesmus sp.) and two marine (Tetraselmis sp. and Gloeocapsa sp.) EPS producing microalgae were exposed to different microplastics. In this study, the influence of the microplastic particles type, size and density in the production of EPS and hetero-aggregates potential was studied. Most microalgae contaminated with microplastics displayed a cell abundance decrease (of up to 42%) in the cultures. The results showed that the formed aggregates were composed of microalgae and EPS (homo-aggregates) or a combination of microalgae, EPS and microplastics (hetero-aggregates). The hetero-aggregation was dependent on the size and yield production of EPS, which was species specific. Microcystis panniformis and Scenedesmus sp. exhibited small EPS, with a higher propension to disaggregate, and consequently lower capabilities to aggregate microplastics. Tetraselmis sp. displayed a higher ability to aggregate both low and high-density microplastics, being partially limited by the size of the microplastics. Gloeocapsa sp. had an outstanding EPS production and presented excellent microplastic aggregation capabilities (adhered onto the surface and also incorporated into the EPS). The results highlight the potential of microalgae to produce EPS and flocculate microplastics, contributing to their vertical transport and consequent deposition. Thus, this work shows the potential of microalgae as biocompatible solutions to water microplastics treatment.
Marine vs freshwater microalgae exopolymers as biosolutions to microplastics pollution (PDF)