Tiny plastic particles found in human feces

Tiny plastic particles

It’s a huge issue that everyone’s talking about: plastic microparticles polluting our oceans. For a long time we’ve known that humans are polluting not just the oceans but the entire earth, in many different ways. The plastics issue is relatively recent. Global plastics production increased substantially from the 1950s and continues to grow every year. With countless practical applications, plastics are pervasive in our lives, and many of us are almost constantly exposed to them.

“First study of its kind”

Scientists from the Environment Agency Austria and the Medical University of Vienna recently released the results of their pilot study that analyzed stool samples of eight individuals from all over the world: Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, UK, Finland and Austria. The results confirm what has long been feared: every sample contained microplastic particles. Polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) were most common, with a total of nine different plastic types identified across the samples (1).

Using a newly developed analytical procedure, the researchers found on average 20 microplastic particles per 10 g of stool. Each participant documented their diet in a food diary in the week prior to stool sampling. All participants consumed plastic-wrapped foods or drinks, and six of the eight consumed sea fish.

A vicious circle – plastics produced by humans, consumed by humans

This is one of the first studies confirming that plastics ultimately make their way to the human gut. It is estimated that an alarming 2–5% of all plastics end up in the oceans (1). Once there, they are consumed by sea animals, entering the food chain to be eventually consumed by humans. Now we know this problem exists, but we don’t know what it means for our health. How does plastic in our bodies affect our gastrointestinal tract and influence disease? What happens if very small plastic particles enter our blood stream, lymphatic system or even our liver?

Further research will be necessary to understand the impact of this vicious circle, but for now it definitely opens up a few more eyes towards protecting our environment.

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Want to learn more about the environmental effects of microplastics? Read our other blog post about the impact of microplastic on water quality and marine environments.


  1. Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in ‘first study of its kind’. October 22, 2018. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-10/sh-mdi101518.php
Laura Alina Mohr, M.Sc.

Laura Alina Mohr joined QIAGEN in 2015. She received her Master’s Degree in Chemical Biology at the Technical University Dortmund in Germany. During this time, she was involved in Systemic Cell Biology research at the prestigious Max Planck Institute. Before joining QIAGEN, Laura Alina worked at the Scripps Research Institute, San Diego, where she first focused on DNA damage/repair pathways and telomere biology. Later, she joined the Muscle Development, Aging and Regeneration program at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. At QIAGEN she is interested in gene expression profiling focusing on various biological pathways, e.g. cancer research and neurodegeneration.

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