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The digestive system

Every day, we eat and drink microplastics. These particles are found in salt, honey, beer, and water, among other sources. Our consumption of microplastics has recently been confirmed by research that found microplastics in the feces of people from Europe, Russia, and Japan. The question now is whether the microplastics that we regularly ingest completely leave our body through the digestive system, or whether a percentage of these remains in our bodies – if these microplastics remain, could our digestive system be harmed? Or worse, could microplastics migrate from the intestines to the rest of our bodies?

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To search for answers on these kinds of questions, four research projects from four universities and research institutes started in March 2019, each with a unique research question.

  • Do additives found in plastic, such as plasticizers, get released into our stomachs and intestines, and do they cause damage once there? And is this also true for environmental pollutants that attach themselves to plastics? (Dr. ir. Hans Bouwmeester – WUR)
  • Can plastic particles that we ingest through the consumption of shellfish (blood cockle) spread through our body, and if so, to what extent does this migration depend on the type, size, and shape of plastic? (Dr. Frank van Belleghem – OU)
  • What are the consequences of systematic exposure to microplastics for our intestines, and does this exposure lead to, for example, intestinal infections? (Dr. Evita van de Steeg – TNO)
  • Are our intestines less capable of protecting us from illness as a result of our ingestion of microplastics? (Dr. Joost Smit – UU)

For all developments about these research projects, you can visit this page, where a mini-documentary will soon be available. Stay tuned!

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Field of research The digestive system
Research period April 2019 – April 2020
Institutes involved Wageningen University (WUR)
Open University (OU)
the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)
University Utrecht (UU)
Researchers involved Dr. ir. Hans Bouwmeester (WUR)
Dr. Frank van Belleghem (OU)
Dr. Evita van de Steeg (TNO)
Dr. Joost Smit (UU)