Ormsby MJ, White HL, Metcalf R, Oliver DM & Quilliam RS (2023) Clinically important E. coli strains can persist, and retain their pathogenicity, on environmental plastic and fabric waste. Environmental Pollution, 326, Art. No.: 121466. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2023.121466
Plastic waste is ubiquitous in the environment and there are increasing reports of such waste being colonised by human pathogens. However, the ability of pathogens to persist on plastics for long periods, and the risk that they pose to human health, is unknown. Here, under simulated environmental conditions, we aimed to determine if pathogenic bacteria can retain their virulence following a prolonged period on plastic. Using antibiotic selection and luciferase expression for quantification, we show that clinically important strains of E. coli can survive on plastic for at least 28-days. Importantly, these pathogens also retained their virulence (determined by using a Galleria mellonella model as a surrogate for human infection) and in some cases, had enhanced virulence following their recovery from the plastisphere. This indicates that plastics in the environment can act as reservoirs for human pathogens and could facilitate their persistence for extended periods of time. Most importantly human pathogens in the plastisphere are capable of retaining their pathogenicity. Pathogens colonising environmental plastic waste therefore pose a heightened public health risk, particularly in areas where people are exposed to pollution.
Biofilm; Human pathogens; Plastic pollution; Plastisphere; Public Health; Wastewater
Environmental Pollution: Volume 326