Analyzing Plastic Degradation from Winogradsky Columns of Two Sample Sources

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Sara Dick


Arts and Sciences


Biology Department

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-3-2019


Microbial organisms are vital components of ecological systems in nature; and as the industrial age continues, plastic and its degradation is becoming an increasing problem. Within our research, we’ve utilized two different sample sources to test the effects microbial organisms would have on plastic straw decomposition. We used 22 Winogradsky columns for each sample source, lagoon and swamp. The Lagoon and the Swamp samples were chosen due to the diversity of microbial organisms within these habitats. The samples were homogeneous, each column was put under similar conditions, with a side continuously exposed to the light and the alternate side under little to no light conditions. Each side of the column, both light and dark, were given plastic straws near the edge. Approximately every month, we froze a column from each source to examine the straws and the microbial layers. The columns that were frozen were thawed and were cut into about 8-12 sub-samples. Those samples are then separated into tubes, “light vs. dark” for both the samples and the straws within each layers. The sub samples were important in ensuring individual habitat colonies in the various sections of the column were accounted for. The composition of plastic in the straws will be analyzed in order to determine if degradation has occurred due to the microbial organisms. Our results of plastics and the decomposition or lack of decomposition will enable others to better understand the severity that plastics can have on the environment.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Jhanelle Spence is a first year undergrad at Valparaiso University. She is a Biology Pre-Med major and is apart of Establishing Practices for Integrating Commuters (EPIC) science, technology, mathematics program at Valparaiso University. With her fascination of science she hopes to pursue her goal of going to medical school and becoming a doctor.

Sarah Dilday is a first year undergraduate student at Valparaiso University. She is in the five year BS/MS physician assistant program, with an undergraduate major in health science and a minor in biology. Her current endeavors have sparked an interest in continuing research of microbial organisms and their environmental effect throughout her undergraduate education.

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