This Blog is part of our “Get to Know Our Ambassadors” Series. Each week, we’ll highlight a new Ambassador to help students understand more about the diversity of people and research projects available to students.

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Why do organisms change with time? Sometimes it’s because of predators that target specific individuals. Other times it’s about how certain individuals attract more mates than others. And sometimes it’s about how environments change because of the changes humans make to the environment.

I’m a marine scientist and I’m interested in understanding how plastic pollution in marine environments is changing how organisms behave, look, and survive. Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest threats to our oceans. We’ve all seen the images of how plastic waste equal to a garbage truckload enters our oceans every minute of every day. Even though plastic was only first observed in our oceans in 1971, today it has been found across all our oceans appearing on the surface water and even deep sea sediments. Once plastic enters the ocean, it gets colonized by microscopic marine bacteria. The problem is that all this plastic has created a new environment for these bacteria to thrive, called the ‘plastisphere’ (Zettler et al., 2013).

Like all bacteria, there are examples of good and bad bacteria in the plastisphere. My research has shown that a particular concern in the Australian plastisphere are the pathogenic bacteria that spread diseases as they use plastics as a raft to “hitch hike” rides across the ocean. What this means is that these bacteria have a greater chance of spreading disease throughout marine ecosystems because of the plastic we have thrown in the ocean. What’s particularly interesting is that the bacteria are evolving to become better at spreading disease through the use of plastic.

This is why I’m excited to be the Arludo Ambassador for the game Eat Prey Live, a game that helps students learn about evolution. In Eat Prey Live, students become predators that love eating dots. The game shows classrooms how organisms (or dots) evolve through time because of different selection pressures (in this case – students!). Teachers can show students how populations change over time and the different factors that lead to that change. And then students can think about how this is happening in the plastisphere!

I’m looking forward to discussing more about populational change through Eat Prey Live and talk all about how this relates to real world problems.

Written by Vinuri Silva

Vinuri is a final year PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, researching bacterial communities living on marine plastic pollution in Australia. She has previously researched on microplastic ingestion in fish.