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Science News Staff

Science Ticker

Science Ticker

Giant larvaceans could be ferrying ocean plastic to the seafloor

giant larvacean

POLLUTED POOP Giant larvaceans (Bathochordaeus stygius) appear to eat microplastics when exposed to them in underwater experiments. The sea creatures could play a role in how plastic pollution cycles through ocean ecosystems.

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Everybody poops, but the poop of bloblike filter feeders called giant larvaceans could be laced with microplastics.

Every day, these gelatinous creatures (Bathochordaeus stygius) build giant disposable mucus mansions to round up zooplankton into their stomachs — sometimes sifting through around 80 liters of seawater per hour. Kakani Katija and her colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute now suggest that tiny plastic particles also make their way in — and out — of giant larvaceans’ guts.

Microplastics pervade the ocean. Their combined mass could reach 250 million metric tons by 2025. Scientists don’t know a lot about where microplastics stick around in open water ecosystems.

To see if plastics could end up on the larvacean menu, Katija and colleagues tried feeding the animals brightly colored microplastics. An underwater robot equipped with camera gear helped the researchers monitor plastic intake from above. Some animals did end up scarfing down the particles, and some of those particles ended up in the organism’s waste, which showers down on the seafloor, Katija and colleagues report August 16 in Science Advances.

“Plastics are sometimes seen as a sea surface issue, and more and more we’re seeing that’s not necessarily true,” Katija says.

Just how much plastic ends up passing through giant larvaceans in the wild remains unclear. But the researchers suspect that the creatures’ poop, as well as their mucus houses, could transfer microplastics from the water’s surface to the depths of the sea (along with nutrients such as carbon that cycle through the environment). And that pollution transfer may impact the ecosystems at either end.  

GOBBLE GOBBLE Watch a giant larvacean slurp up plastic particles (red and green dots in the video) that are a similar size to the food it’s trying to capture in its mucus house. Produced by H. Thompson/Science News/YouTube; Video: MBARI/K. Katija et al/Science Advances 2017

Anthropology,, Human Evolution

Ancient people arrived in Sumatra’s rainforests more than 60,000 years ago

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Virgo detector joins LIGO in the search for gravitational waves

By Emily Conover 3:15pm, August 1, 2017
The Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy, has begun searching for subtle ripples in the fabric of spacetime.
Health,, Biomedicine

One in three U.S. adults takes opioids, and many misuse them

By Kate Travis 10:33am, August 1, 2017
More than a third of U.S. adults used prescription opioids in 2015, and nearly 13 percent of that group misused the painkillers in some way.
Materials,, Biomedicine,, Animals

Slug slime inspires a new type of surgical glue

By Laurel Hamers 2:00pm, July 27, 2017
A new glue that mimics a slug’s mucus secretions sticks well, even when wet. The adhesive could be used in place of sutures or staples in surgeries.

Elephant seals recognize rivals by the tempo of their calls

By Laurel Hamers 12:00pm, July 20, 2017
The distinct sputtering-lawnmower sound of a male elephant seal’s call has a tempo that broadcasts his identity to competitors.
Planetary Science,, Astronomy

New Horizons’ next target caught making a star blink

By Lisa Grossman 7:00am, July 20, 2017
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Robotics,, Plants

This robot grows like a plant

By Helen Thompson 5:26pm, July 19, 2017
A new soft robot navigates its environment by growing in a manner inspired by plants.
Climate,, Science & Society

Rising temps may mean fewer passengers on airplane flights

By Maria Temming 5:30am, July 13, 2017
Global warming could force airplanes to carry a lighter load — and fewer passengers —on each flight.
Genetics,, Technology

CRISPR adds storing movies to its feats of molecular biology

By Helen Thompson 7:09pm, July 12, 2017
Video and images could be stored in living bacteria with a little help from the iconic gene editor, CRISPR.
Planetary Science

Here are Juno’s first close-ups of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

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