Lectureship in Soil and Environmental Sciences

Microplastics as Contaminants in the Environment: Impact on Plant-Water Relations and Cadmium Uptake

Microplastics as Contaminants in the Environment: Impact on Plant-Water Relations and Cadmium Uptake


Microplastics are a major source of pollutants in soil and marine ecosystems. Microplastics in the aquatic environment have been widely studied, but microplastics in the terrestrial environment have been less studied, and essentially no information exists concerning the water relations of plants grown in soil with microplastics. This lecture will describe an experiment with microplastics in soil. The first objective of the experiment was to determine the growth, stomatal resistance, and evapotranspiration rate of wheat when grown in soil with microplastics. Because microplastics can be a vector for toxic trace-element uptake, the second objective of this experiment was to determine the uptake of cadmium (Cd) to see if they enhanced its uptake. The results showed that the microplastics reduced growth, increased stomatal resistance, and reduced evapotranspiration. They were a potent vector for the transport of Cd to wheat leaves.

This event took place on Thursday, April 14 at the Gore Recital Hall.

The recording can be found on the lectureship media channel.

Headshot of featured speaker Mary Beth (M.B.) Kirkham

About the speaker

M. B. Kirkham is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University and teaches a graduate-level class on soil-plant-water relations. Dr. Kirkham earned a B.A. degree in biological sciences from Wellesley College and M.S. degree and Ph.D. in botany (minor: soil science) from the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Kirkham is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Dr. Kirkham is Honorary Member, International Union of Soil Sciences. Dr. Kirkham’s research focuses on soil-plant-water relations and uptake of heavy metals by plants grown on contaminated soils and has been supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Kirkham has published over 300 papers, three textbooks, and edited or co-edited six books, including “Spoil to Soil: Mine Site Rehabilitation and Revegetation” (CRC Press, 2018) and “Particulate Plastics in Terrestrial and Aquatic Environments” (CRC Press, 2020). Dr. Kirkham is a member of 30 scientific societies, is peer reviewer for many manuscripts, and is on the editorial board of 15 international scientific journals.

Photo of Don Sparks and Scott Fendorf

Donald L. Sparks Distinguished Lectureship in Soil and Environmental Sciences

In 2019, Dr. Donald L. Sparks, a longstanding professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, made a generous multi-year gift to create the Donald L. Sparks Distinguished Lectureship in Soil and Environmental Sciences. By creating this fund, Dr. Sparks' goal is to bring renowned thought leaders, from across multidisciplinary backgrounds, to the University of Delaware annually in order to share insight and research around the latest topics in soil and environmental sciences.