Seafood on the Menu—Hold the Plastic Please

Seafood boils are a southern summer tradition. Clam chowders are a northern winter tradition.

And lobster rolls are year-round deliciousness. 

Seafood is a staple of the American diet, however, due to the exponential increase in ocean plastic pollution, our underwater food is threatened, and some researchers worry our health can be too if we keep up our egregious use of plastic.

Fortunately, biotechnology has some solutions in store to protect marine and human health from ourselves.

“Nearly 700 marine species and over 50 freshwater species are known to have ingested or become entangled in microplastic,” a group of researchers wrote for Science Magazine.

A 2018 study found that “not only did fish exposed to microplastics reproduce less but their offspring, who weren’t directly exposed to plastic particles, also had fewer young, suggesting the effects can linger into subsequent generations,” as written in Scientific American.

Additionally, a recent study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that plastic directly affected lobster larvae from reaching full adulthood. For the youngest of larvae, the accumulation of plastic “under the shells that protect their gills” was killing them reported Science Daily.

The plastics are causing immense long-term damage to the quality and quantity of important food sources. Not to mention what may happen to us when we consume them.  

Plastics leach all types of harmful chemicals; they’re made from fossil fuels after all. We’ve been warned about Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Bisephenol A (BPA) in food containers and we all do our best to avoid them, but many types of plastic harm our oceans and sea life.

As of now, the long-term health effects of humans consuming microplastics through tap water and seafood are not entirely clear. Only time will tell the exact ways they impact us.

Dr. Patricia Matrai, senior research scientist told ABC10 Boston that in order to save the lobster industry and help marine wildlife in general, we must “reduce, remove, reuse and reeducate. At the current time, I don’t know of any other alternative.” She’s right—well partially.

Certainly, individuals and corporations must take responsibility to significantly reduce and reuse plastic. But science is providing alternatives to help make the transitions easier.  

There are so many biotech companies making biodegradable plastic alternatives. Anellotech, Renmatix, and Virent use biobased ingredients such as agricultural waste to create plastic that doesn’t take hundreds of years to break down. Danimer is the first to market with their bioplastic that is providing major plastic purveyors such as PepsiCo with a dissolvable plastic alternative. This plastic breaks down easily in soil, ocean water, and fresh water!

Novozymes is working with Carbio, a French startup, to mass-produce an enzyme that essentially eats and digests old plastic into “the chemical building blocks to make new plastic,” journalist Adele Peters wrote for Fast Company. On a large scale, this innovative form of recycling would clear up a lot of landfills and oceans.

AquaBounty is helping to protect water wildlife and provide consumers with plastic-free seafood alternatives with their gene-edited Atlantic salmon. This salmon grows faster and more sustainably than traditional salmon. Because AquaBounty’s salmon are raised in tanks in inland facilities, the salmon is removed from the perils of the ocean—including plastic.

As the crisis of the pandemic has demonstrated, it can be difficult to get an entire population on one accord. In addition to encouraging recycling, reduction, and plastic reeducation, we have researchers using incredible tools to help us break our worst habits.  So, we can all safely consume seafood.

Thank goodness for biotechnology.

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