Research project Microplastic Contamination in agricultural Soil ecosystems and the effect on soil and plant health

In progress MICOS

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Main research question

The MiCoS project, a collaboration between Ghent University and ILVO and financed by ERC, wants to define the effects of microplastics on soil and plant health by working on three scales: risk assessment, risk-based testing and risk reduction. This is translated in three research questions: (1) what is the current microplastic distribution in soil?; (2) has the current microplastic concentration negative effects on plant and soil health?; and (3) can we isolate, cultivate and use plastic degrading microorganisms to reduce the introduction and accumulation of plastic in soil?

Research approach

The project will consist of four stages. In stage 1 we will develop a standardized protocol to measure microplastics in soils and other materials with high amounts of organic matter. In stage 2, 240 agricultural soils in the Benelux will be screened for microplastic pollution, the soil microbiome, water permeability and physicochemical composition of the soil. In stage 3, greenhouse trials will be used to study the effect of the current pollution grade on growth and health of plants and soil health. In stage 4, sequencing techniques will be used to screen for plastic degrading bacteria and fungi for the most occurring plastic polymers.


The project will give for the first time information on the current microplastic distribution in agricultural soils in the Benelux and the potential effects this can have on food production. We expect to deliver a solution by actively searching plastic-degrading organisms in stage 4 of the project, that might be used later onwards in e.g. soil remediation.