Rapid Detection of Microplastics in Seafood Using Nile Red Staining

Jim Crocker
11th May, 2024

Rapid Detection of Microplastics in Seafood Using Nile Red Staining

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • A new method detects microplastics in seafood with over 95% accuracy and only 1% error
  • The method is fast, analyzing samples in 0.02–0.06 hours per square centimeter, much quicker than previous techniques
  • While promising, the study also notes challenges like variable recovery rates, indicating a need for standardized procedures
Microplastics (MPs) have become a global environmental concern, especially in aquatic ecosystems, and their presence in seafood is raising questions about the potential risks to human health. The accumulation of plastics in the environment and their fragmentation into microplastics has been extensively documented[2]. These tiny particles are not only found on shorelines and in the open ocean but have also made their way into the food chain, with studies showing their presence in the tissues of aquatic animals[3][4] and in food products intended for human consumption[5]. A recent study by the Max Rubner-Institut[1] has focused on improving the methods for detecting microplastics in seafood, a critical step towards understanding and managing the risks associated with dietary exposure to MPs. The conventional techniques for analyzing microplastics, such as infrared or Raman microspectroscopy, provide detailed information about individual particles but are time-consuming and labor-intensive, limiting their use in large-scale monitoring. The innovative approach taken in this study involves a semi-automated fluorescence imaging analysis using Nile red staining—a dye that binds to plastic particles, causing them to fluoresce under certain lighting conditions. By setting specific RGB-based fluorescence threshold values, the researchers aimed to reduce the need for high operator expertise and minimize the misclassification of natural particles as microplastics. The results of the study were promising, with the new method correctly identifying food-relevant microplastics with over 95% probability and differentiating them from natural polymers with only a 1% error rate. When the new method was compared with laser direct infrared imaging (LDIR), a rapid MP analysis technique, it showed similar particle counts, suggesting the results were reliable. One of the most significant advantages of the new method is its speed. It requires only 0.02–0.06 hours per square centimeter of filter surface for analysis, compared to 4.5–14.7 hours per square centimeter with LDIR. This efficiency could make it a valuable screening tool for seafood samples, enabling quicker and more extensive monitoring of microplastics in the food supply. However, the study also highlighted some challenges, such as the highly variable recovery rates due to the inhomogeneity of particle spiking experiments. This indicates the need for the development of certified reference materials and standardized sample preparation techniques to ensure consistency and accuracy in future research. In conclusion, the semi-automated fluorescence imaging analysis method developed by the Max Rubner-Institut represents a significant step forward in the rapid screening of microplastics in seafood. It not only complements the more detailed but resource-intensive spectroscopic and thermoanalytical techniques but also holds the potential to expand our understanding of human dietary exposure to microplastics. This could ultimately contribute to the assessment and mitigation of potential public health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated seafood.

EnvironmentHealthMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Nile red staining for rapid screening of plastic-suspect particles in edible seafood tissues

Published 10th May, 2024


Related Studies

2) Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments.


3) Adherence of microplastics to soft tissue of mussels: A novel way to uptake microplastics beyond ingestion.


4) A review of microplastic pollution in commercial fish for human consumption.


5) Microplastics in vacuum packages of frozen and glazed icefish (Neosalanx spp.): A freshwater fish intended for human consumption.


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