An assessment of the ability to ingest and excrete microplastics by filter-feeders: A case study with the Mediterranean mussel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Plastic debris has been recognized as a growing threat to marine biota due to its widespread distribution and possible interactions with marine species. Concerns over the effects of plastic polymers in marine ecosystems is reflected in the high number of toxicological studies, regarding microplastics (<5 mm) and marine fauna. Although several studies reported that organisms ingest and subsequently eliminate microplastics (MP), the potential effects at organ and tissue level remain unclear, especially considering exposure to different microplastic sizes and concentrations. The present study aimed at investigating potential pathophysiological effects of the ingestion of MP by marine filter-feeders. For the purpose, Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) was exposed to spherical polystyrene MP (2 and 10 μm Ø) over short- and medium-term exposure periods, under single and combined concentrations that represent high, yet realistic doses (10 and 1000 MP mL−1). Overall, results suggest rapid MP’ clearance from water column by filtering, regardless of MP size. Ingestion occurred, identified by MP in the lumen of the gut (mostly in midgut region), followed by excretion through faeces. However, no MP were found in gills or digestive gland diverticula. Biochemical indicators for oxidative stress were generally irresponsive regardless of organ and time of exposure. Small foci of haemocytic infiltration in gastric epithelia were found, albeit not clearly related to MP ingestion. Globally, no evident histopathological damage was recorded in whole-body sections of exposed animals. The present findings highlight the adaptative ability of filter-feeding bivalves to cope with filtration of suspended MP, resulting in rapid elimination and reduced internal damage following ingestion of spherical MP. Nevertheless, the fact that the animals are able to translocate MP to the gut reveals that filter feeding organisms may indeed became a target of concern for fragmented materials with smaller, mixed sizes and sharper edges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)600-606
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Digestive tract
  • Histopathology
  • Microplastic ingestion
  • Mytilus galloprovincialis
  • Polystyrene


Dive into the research topics of 'An assessment of the ability to ingest and excrete microplastics by filter-feeders: A case study with the Mediterranean mussel'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this