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Coupling SEM and Raman spectroscopy for the characterization of microplastics in mussels, freshly picked up, cooked, and degraded by the human digestive tract mimicked in vitro.

The MOUSTIC project has been selected as part of the Environment-Health-Work program of the Anses. It aims to determine the nature, quantity, and size distribution of nano and microplastics ingested via the consumption of mussels, using the methodology developed for nanomaterials and simulated human digestion.
As plastics have not been recycled since the beginning of their applications, they have been progressively degraded in the environment and reduced to the state of small particles of a micrometer- or even nanometer-size that are absorbed by filtering marine organisms such as mussels. The consumer of mussels is therefore exposed to this type of contamination.
At present, only microplastics bigger than 5 microns are analyzed and their sizes are not known according to their chemical nature. Moreover, little is known about their fate after human digestion.
The first objective of MOUSTIC is to determine the size distribution (from micro to nanometres) of the plastics identified in mussels along the French coasts, according to their chemical nature (polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene). Then, it will examine what these micro- or nanosized plastics become after simulated human digestion.
This project will involve the Allergy (ALL) and Interfaces and Dispersed Systems (ISD) teams of the BIA Unit and three academic partners (IMN, LNE, and LSA).
analytical workflow

Analytical workflow

  • AF4 : Asymmetric Flow Field Flow Fractionation
  • FT-IR : Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy
  • Py-GC-MS : Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography combined with Mass Spectroscopy
  • SEM: Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • EDS: Electron Dispersive Spectroscopy
  • MALS : Multi Angle Light Scattering
  • DLS : Dynamic Light Scattering
  • NIR : Near Infrared

(adapted from C. Schwaferts et al. (2019), Methods for the analysis of submicrometer- and nanoplastic particles in the environment, TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry 112: 52-65.)

The innovative experimental approach of MOUSTIC aims to overcome the difficulties related to the determination of the size distribution by plastic family by coupling confocal Raman and scanning electron microscopy, either inline or via colocalization grids.
The presence of plastics after digestion and their properties will be evaluated using a harmonized protocol for human in vitro digestion that mimics the three main stages of digestion (oral phase, gastric phase, and intestinal phase).
  • Begin and end of the project: 01/01/2021-31/12/2022
  • Funding: The French National Research Program for Environmental and Occupational Health of Anses (The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety), an administrative public establishment accountable to the French Ministries of Health, Agriculture, the Environment, Labour and Consumer Affairs.
  • Total budget: 62 k€
  • Partners:
    • BIA Research Unit (INRAE)
    • Institut des Matériaux de Nantes Jean Rouxel (IMN, CNRS Univ. Nantes)
    • Laboratoire Métrologie et Essais (LNE)
    • Laboratoire de Sécurité des Aliments (LSA, ANSES)
  • Coordinator: M.H. Ropers ( BIA Research Unit)