Brianna Sander smiles at the camera and holds up a tiny frog

Brianna Sander


      To my dismay, this week’s interview made me think again about my love for plastic-wrapped frozen dinners. I talked to Brianna Sander, a senior biology student and Binghamton Summer Scholar. For her project, Brianna studied the effects of microplastic on parasite/host relationships and the levels of those plastics in the environment.

      “We’re working on the stats right now,” Brianna tells me, “but so far we have established that microplastics do have a negative effect on the parasites’ ability to find their host, so to find and successfully infect their host,” which doesn’t sound too much like a bad thing, until you dig a little deeper.

       In her study, Brianna found that the hosts (tadpoles) were also interacting with the plastics “and they were ingesting almost to a linear rate, the exact same amount of plastics that we were exposing them to. We [still] don't know how or if microplastics are being excreted by tadpoles, ….and if tadpoles are ingesting, say 15 microplastics, one bird visiting a pond could be ingesting 200 tadpoles in a visit, that is a biomagnification, 15x200, and we [potentially] have a bird with thousands of microfibers, micro-fragments in their body.”

       To build off of her work this summer, Brianna expressed her excitement for the sampling methodology, “because I want to use it to survey bodies of water that we have on campus. We have wetlands, we have the nature preserve, we have tons of tiny little bodies of water that I think would be really important to investigate and see the sources of these plastics.”

       Working with a grad student in the lab, Brianna explains that “We’re still processing a major part of the paper we’re writing up, [but] we are actually looking to submit it to an open-access journal, which is exciting—so the public could be able to read this.”

There are negative effects that are associated with just ingesting plastics... but the next question to ask is how their presence is affecting long-standing ecological relationships.