Randi Rotjan, research assistant professor of biology, is a staunch advocate for jump-starting young scientists’ careers by involving them directly in her research.

Recently, two of her students came away with more than they bargained for. It all started when Hayley Goss (CAS’19) and Jacob Jaskiel (CAS’19) joined Rotjan in Belize to collect seagrass blades from underwater meadows. They wanted to determine why sea-dwelling vegetarians like parrotfish preferred particular blades.

Back in Rotjan’s lab on campus, Goss and Jaskiel’s research took a sharp turn. They discovered that 75 percent of the seagrasses they had collected contained microplastics.

They dug through all the scientific literature for related research but came up empty. Their work appears to be the first discovery of microplastics on aquatic vascular plants, revealing an entirely new vehicle for microplastics to enter the food chain, leading all the way up to humans. Their findings were published in Marine Pollution Bulletin in the fall of 2018. “This was not a fun, cool discovery; it’s describing a human impact that we’ve never really considered,” Goss says. “Of course, that being said, it’s better to know now and try to address what’s happening in our world.”

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