A SCOTTISH Government minister visited the University of Stirling to hear from experts investigating how marine plastics transport bacteria and viruses.

Mairi Gougeon MSP, minister for rural affairs and the natural environment, met with Dr Richard Quilliam, who leads the innovative project.

The project seeks to understand how plastics act as vehicles for pathogens – and the impact that may have on human health.

Speaking after her visit to the university, the minister said: “We are all now well aware that plastic pollution threatens our marine environment, caused by our dependence on plastic and throwaway culture.

“Little is known of the long-term harm caused by marine plastics, whether to marine species or humans.

“As such, research like this by the University of Stirling is key to improving our understanding, and enabling the protection of our seas on which we rely for climate regulation, food and so much more.”

Dr Quilliam’s study is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

It will consider how pathogens bind to plastics in the ocean; how that process helps bacteria and viruses spread across the world; and the potential impact to human health.

The research will also consider whether the process boosts survivability of viruses, bacteria and toxic algae; analyse the behaviour of microplastics, that have become colonised by microbes, through rivers and estuaries; and consider the role of microbes in the biodegradation of plastics.

The work is expected to result in new environmental guidelines, strategies and management plans designed to reduce the likelihood of marine plastics being bound by pathogens.