Long-term interactions between microplastics and floating macrophyte Lemna minor:the potential for phytoremediation of microplastics in the aquatic environment

Rozman U, Jemec Kokalj A, Dolar A, Drobne D, Kalčíková G
[ site ] Science of the total environment, 2022

The presence of microplastics (MPs) in the environment has raised many concerns, and therefore approaches and technologies to remove them in situ are of high interest. In this context, we investigated the interactions between polyethylene MPs (fragments with a mean size of 149 ± 75 μm) and an aquatic floating macrophyte Lemna minor in order to assess its potential use for in situ phytoremediation. We first investigated the long-term effects of a high (100 mg/L = 9600 MPs/L), but still environmentally relevant concentration of MPs on L. minor. Subsequently bioadhesion of MPs was studied and the number and strength of MPs adhering to plant biomass were assessed. MPs did not adversely affect various parameters of plants (e.g., specific growth rate, chlorophyll contents, total antioxidant capacity, electron transport system activity, and contents of energy-rich molecules) throughout the duration of the experiment (12 weeks), except for the first week of the experiment, when protein content and total antioxidant capacity were affected. On the other hand, MPs affected the root length of L. minor during the first eight weeks of the experiment, while further exposure resulted in a decrease in the effects, indicating the ability of L. minor to tolerate the presence of MPs for a long period of time. MPs adhered rapidly to the plant biomass and the average percentages of strongly and weakly adhered particles were 6.5% and 20.0%, respectively, of the total MPs applied. In summary, results of this study suggest that L. minor can tolerate hotspot concentrations of MPs and can collect MPs from the water surface. Therefore, phytoremediation using floating plants could be considered as a potential method for in situ removal of MPs from the aquatic environment.