Based in the UK, the CPR Survey is the oldest and most geographically extensive survey of marine ecology in the world. Since 1931, nearly 300 ships have traveled more than 7.2 million miles towing sampling devices that capture plankton and environmental measurements in all the world’s oceans, the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea and the North Sea and in freshwater lakes.
The effort, along with complementary programs elsewhere, aims to document and monitor the general health of the oceans, based on the well-being of marine plankton – a diverse collection of usually tiny organisms that provide food for many other aquatic creatures, from molluscs to fish to whales.
“Marine plankton exist in all ocean ecosystems,” said study co-author Sonia Batten, PhD, former Pacific CPR coordinator and current executive secretary of the North Pacific Marine Science Organization. “They create complex communities that form the basis of the food web and play a vital role in maintaining the health and balance of the oceans. Plankton are generally short-lived and highly sensitive to environmental changes.
Naviaux, corresponding co-author Kefeng Li, PhD, project scientist in Naviaux’s lab, and his colleagues assessed plankton specimens collected from three different locations in the North Pacific at different times between 2002 and 2020, then used a variety of technologies to assess their exposure to different man-made chemicals, including pharmaceuticals; persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as industrial chemicals; pesticide; phthalates and plasticizers (chemicals derived from plastics); and personal care products.
The amount of many of these pollutants has declined over the past two decades, the researchers said, but not universally and often in complex ways. For example, analyzes suggest that levels of old POPs and the common antibiotic amoxicillin have largely declined in the North Pacific Ocean over the past 20 years, possibly in part due to regulation. federal government and a decrease in overall antibiotic use in the United States and Canada, but the results are skewed by simultaneous increases in consumption in Russia and China.
The most polluted samples were taken from coastal areas closest to human activity and subject to phenomena such as land runoff and aquaculture. In these locations, there were higher levels and a greater number of different chemicals found in the plankton taxa living in these coastal environments.
The authors said their pilot project paves the way for follow-up research designed to examine correlations between the plankton exposome, predator-prey relationships and affected fisheries.
“Follow-up studies by epidemiologists and marine ecologists are needed to test if and how the plankton exposome correlates with important medical trends in nearby human populations like infant mortality, autism, asthma, diabetes and dementia,” Naviaux said.
Naviaux noted that the findings present new clues to explain the nature of many chronic diseases in which phases of the cellular danger response (CDR) persist, leading to chronic symptoms.
For more than a decade, Naviaux and his colleagues have laid that accumulating data suggests many diseases and chronic illnesses, neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder and neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS to cancer and major depression are at least partly the consequence of a metabolic dysfunction that results in incomplete wound healing, characterized as CDR.