Sapozhnikov Ph. V., Salimon A. I., Korsunsky A. M., Kalinina O. Yu., Senatov F. S., Statnik E. S., Cvjetinovic Ju. Features of formation of colonial settlements of marine benthic diatoms on the surface of synthetic polymer. Marine Biological Journal, 2020, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 88-104. https://doi.org/10.21072/mbj.2020.05.2.08



The topic of interactions between plastic and natural communities is now more relevant than ever before. Gradual accumulation of artificial polymer products and their fragments in the natural environment has reached a level at which it is already impossible to ignore the affect of these materials on living organisms. First and foremost, microorganism colonies inhabiting different biotopes, both aquatic and terrestrial, have been affected. These species are at the front-end of interaction with plastic, including those present in marine ecosystems. Nevertheless, in order to understand these processes, it is necessary to take into account several aspects of such interactions: the impact of different types of plastic on microbial community through the release of their decomposed products into the environment, the forms of plastic usage by microorganisms themselves, including mechanisms for surface colonization, as well as possible biodegradation processes of polymers due to the actions of microorganisms. At the same time, types of plastic may differ not only in mechanical strength, but also in their resistance to biodegradation caused by microorganisms. Experiments with surface colonization of types of plastic, which are different in composition and mechanical strength, provide a wide range of results that are not just relevant for understanding modern natural processes involving plastic: these results are also important for application in certain areas of technology development (for example, when creating composite materials). In particular, researches into the forms and mechanisms of sustainable colonization of particularly strong polymers by diatoms from natural communities are of great interest. Due to the fouling of surface of particularly strong synthetic polymers by diatoms, it is possible to form a single diatom-polymeric composite with general properties being already substantially different from those of the polymer itself. For example, when a polymer is fouled with diatoms that are firmly held on its surface due to physiological mechanisms that ensure their reliable fixation, total surface area of the composite increases by 2–3 orders of magnitude compared with this of bare polymer. Such composites and their properties are formed due to mechanisms of substrate colonization used by diatoms from natural marine cenoses – during the transfer of these mechanisms to a new material being prospective for diatom settlement. The practical applications of these composites lie in the sphere of heat and sound insulation, as well as in the field of creating prosthetic tissues for bone operations. In our experiments, we tracked the sequence of development of a stable composite when diatoms colonized the surface of samples of a particularly strong synthetic polymer being resistant to corrosion. In this case, the sample population process took place on the basis of colonies formed in accumulative cultures from the natural marine environment. Samples of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) with a smooth and porous surface structure (with an open cell, bulk porosity up to 80 %) were colonized by diatoms Karayevia amoena (Hust.) Bukht., 2006, Halamphora coffeaeformis (C. Agardh) Levkov, 2009, and Halamphora cymbifera (W. Greg.) Levkov, 2009. These laboratory experiments lasted for three weeks. Accumulative microphyte cultures, on the basis of which the experiments were conducted, were obtained from the Baltic Sea (Baltiysk area, Russia) and the Arabian Sea (Mumbai area, India). The types and stages of development of colonial settlements on various elements of the frontal surface microrelief and in the underlying caverns were studied using a scanning electron microscope on samples subjected to stepwise thermal drying. Individual cells of K. amoena, H. coffeaeformis, and H. cymbifera, their chain-like aggregates, and outstretched colonial settlements occupied varying in degree non-homogeneous microrelief surface elements, forming structures with a thickness of 1–2 layers with an average settlement height of 1–1.3 single specimen height. K. amoena cells were tightly fixed to the polymer substrate using the pore apparatus of the flap of the frustule. Observations using scanning electron microscope revealed shell imprints on the substrate, which were signs of a polymer substrate introduction into hypotheca areoles. The spread mechanisms of diatoms of three mentioned species on various elements of UHMWPE surface were explored, as well as the formation of the characteristic elements of colonial settlements, including for K. amoena – consecutively in the form of “pots” and spheres, by means of interaction with polymer surface and its extension with the increase in the number of tightly attached cells in the colonial settlement.


Ph. V. Sapozhnikov

senior researcher, PhD



A. I. Salimon

senior research engineer, PhD



A. M. Korsunsky

professor, D. Phil.


O. Yu. Kalinina

junior researcher



F. S. Senatov

associate professor, PhD



E. S. Statnik

graduate student



Ju. Cvjetinovic

postgraduate student




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This work was partially supported by the grants of the Royal Society of London (No. IEC/R2/170223) and of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (No. 19-55-80004).



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