For six years, the Marco project was dedicated to comprehensive research into marine environments and aquatic products in Hauts-de-France, including marine and coastal ecosystems, marine resources, the quality of seafood products, marine energy, and related socio-economic aspects. “The project brought together teams from very different disciplines. We were able to produce data that we would not have obtained if we had not been partnered with other organisations” affirms Anne Brisabois, joint coordinator of the project and Scientific Director of Food Safety at ANSES. The project's partners were the University of the Littoral-Côte d’Opale (ULCO), ANSES (Laboratory for Food Safety), the CNRS, University of Lille, and Ifremer. It was funded as part of a State-Region plan contract (CPER) by the Hauts-de-France region, the French State, Europe, and Ifremer, for a total amount of €7 million.
Cutting-edge equipment for studying microplastics
As part of the Marco project, ANSES was principally involved in the “Quality and safety of aquatic resources” theme. Among other things, it studied microplastics, in collaboration with ULCO. Three devices were acquired thanks to the project, for visualising microplastics, characterising the types of polymers comprising them – to understand their origin – and identifying the additives as well as the chemical compounds and micro-organisms that can agglomerate on these microscopic particles. These devices, pooled between ANSES and ULCO, may be used in future national, European and international research projects on microplastics.
Details concerning the contamination of molluscs and fish
Knowledge was also acquired with regard to the ingestion of microplastics by mussels, shellfish and fish. “We observed that the amount of microplastics in mussels and shellfish off the coasts of northern France is no higher than in other places in Europe. We had been concerned about this being the case, due to high maritime traffic in the English Channel”, explains Guillaume Duflos, Head of the Fishery Products and Aquaculture Physico-Chemistry Unit, at ANSES's Laboratory for Food Safety. The project's scientists also showed that the ingestion of microplastics by mussels changes the composition of their microbiota, i.e. the community of micro-organisms they host. As for fish, it was shown that a very small amount of microplastics ends up in their flesh, as the particles remain in their digestive system.
Study of fish pathogens
Another part of the project was dedicated to parasites, bacteria and chemical contaminants in fish. "We took advantage of the fishing surveys conducted by Ifremer in the English Channel and in the North Sea to take samples in order to study contamination in fish” states Anne Brisabois. The project's participants also studied bacteria of the genus Vibrio in aquaculture, as part of a thesis supported by the ANSES and ULCO Biochemistry of Aquatic Products contracted unit. Several analytical tools for molecular biology acquired through the project were used to closely study microbiota diversity in farmed fish. The aim of this work was to understand the link between the composition of the microbiota and the presence of pathogenic Vibrio species, to ultimately control this contamination in aquaculture.