Is it Possible to Reduce Farmer’s Plastic Use? 

By: Lyndsey Koyanagi

Microplastics may be more harmful to farmer’s livestock than what is believed.  An estimated 107,000 to 730,000 tons of microplastics are dumped onto agriculture soils every year. My name is Lyndsey Koyanagi and this summer I am in an NSF research experience for an undergraduates (REU) with University of Maine. I am part of a team with my mentor Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner and a graduate student (Rachel White), and the research consists of studying microplastics and parasites within snails. This fall I am off to Philadelphia as a rising senior to study biotechnology at Thomas Jefferson University, after my experiences in biochemistry, organic chemistry, scientific communication, and environmental science at Wesley College.

Lyndsey Koyanagi

After my first research project in organic chemistry, I realized that I am constantly curious and that continuous learning is exactly what I dream of in a career. However, I have always wanted to be involved with interdisciplinary scientific research including biology, environmental science, and public outreach. I want to help benefit society, and the best way to achieve research beneficial to the good of society is to communicate with the public. Recently I have worked with a survey-based study involving COVID-19 effects on my peers, and realized I enjoy using infographics on social media to communicate science. I realized that my research project as an REU student is a perfect interdisciplinary research opportunity for me because of the One Health aspect. One Health interconnects environmental research with the health of animals and humans, and my research will enhance farmers’ awareness of plastic use which can benefit society.

In the past few years, environmental scientists have realized that earth’s soil may be a larger reservoir for microplastics (MPs) than are oceans/bodies of water. This has caused many terrestrial animals and organisms to become carriers of MPs. Snails can carry immature parasites of mammals, such as brainworm, which can kill farmers’ livestock. MPs may be causing the snails to become more vulnerable to these parasites, because they decrease snail immunity due to the plastic’s toxins. Higher numbers of larval parasites in snails increase the risk of grazing mammal parasite infections. If the transfer of parasites to livestock is increasing (possibly due to MPs), then farmers might be more willing to change how they utilize plastic sources on the farm. This research may change the awareness farmers have regarding the interaction of plastics, parasitic diseases, and fatality in their animals. I have been excited to interact with environmental and biological research for the first time during this REU experience!