Published August 6, 2023 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Simulated gastrointestinal digestion of polylactic acid (PLA) biodegradable microplastics and their interaction with the gut microbiota

  • 1. Institute of Food Science Research, CIAL, CSIC-UAM
  • 2. Instituto de Cer´amica y Vidrio, CSIC; Encapsulae S.L
  • 3. Instituto de Cat´alisis y Petroleoquímica, CSIC
  • 4. Encapsulae S.L


The accumulation of microplastics (MPs) in the environment as well as their presence in foods and humans highlight the urgent need for studies on the effects of these particles on humans. Polylactic acid (PLA) is the most widely used bioplastic in the food industry and medical field. Despite its biodegradability, biocompatibility, and “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) status, recent animal model studies have shown that PLA MPs can alter the intestinal microbiota; however, to date, no studies have been reported on the possible gut and health consequences of its intake by humans.

This work simulates the ingestion of a realistic daily amount of PLA MPs and their pass through the gastrointestinal tract by combining the INFOGEST method and the gastrointestinal simgi® model to evaluate possible effects on the human colonic microbiota composition (16S rRNA gene sequencing analysis) and metabolic functionality (lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) production).

Although PLA MPs did not clearly alter the microbial community homeostasis, increased Bifidobacterium levels tended to increase in presence of millimetric PLA particles. Furthermore, shifts detected at the functional level suggest an alteration of microbial metabolism, and a possible biotransformation of PLA by the human microbial colonic community. Raman spectroscopy and field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) characterization revealed morphological changes on the PLA MPs after the gastric phase of the digestion, and the adhesion of organic matter as well as a microbial biofilm, with surface biodegradation, after the intestinal and colonic phases.

With this evidence and the emerging use of bioplastics, understanding their impact on humans and potential biodegradation through gastrointestinal digestion and the human microbiota merits critical investigation.

Supplementary data to this article can be found online at


Jimenez-Arroyo et al Sci Total Envir 2023.pdf

Files (7.0 MB)

Name Size Download all
7.0 MB Preview Download

Additional details


PlasticsFatE – Plastics fate and effects in the human body 965367
European Commission