Current understanding and challenges for aquatic primary producers in a world with rising micro- and nano-plastic levels

Guang Gao, Xin Zhao, Peng Jin, Kunshan Gao, John Beardall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


The impacts of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) on aquatic animals have been intensively studied; however, the extent and magnitude of potential effects of MNPs on aquatic primary producers are poorly understood. In this study, we quantitatively analyzed the published literature to examine the impacts of MNPs on growth, photosynthesis, pigments, and metabolism of aquatic microalgae. MNPs negatively affected growth of microalgae but usually had a high EC50 (> 25 mg/L). However, positively charged MNPs had a much lower EC50 (< 1 mg/L). MNPs lowered maximum photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm) with the effect increasing with concentration of MNPs but diminishing with exposure time, and also reduced chlorophyll a content to enhanced extent with increased MNPs concentration. MNPs induced relatively higher changes in superoxide dismutase (SOD) and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels in marine algae than in freshwater algae. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels increased with MNPs concentration and exposure time while SOD levels first increased and then decreased with increasing MNPs concentration. Macrophytes were found to be able to trap MNPs via multiple mechanisms. Future work should focus on the mechanisms behind MNPs impacts on primary productivity and global carbon cycle, and the combined effects of MNPs with other environmental factors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124685
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021


  • Algae
  • Macrophytes
  • Microplastics
  • Nanoplastics
  • Primary producers

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