Disentangling the Interactions Between Photochemical and Bacterial Degradation of Dissolved Organic Matter: Amino Acids Play a Central Role

André M. Amado, James B. Cotner, Rose M. Cory, Betsy L. Edhlund, Kristopher McNeill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Photochemical and bacterial degradation are important pathways to carbon mineralization and can be coupled in dissolved organic matter (DOM) decomposition. However, details of several mechanisms of the coupled photochemical and biological processing of DOM remain too poorly understood to achieve accurate predictions of the impact of these processes on DOM fate and reactivity. The aim of this study was to evaluate how photochemical degradation of amino acids affects bacterial metabolism and whether or not photochemical degradation of DOM competes for amino acids with biological processes. We examined the interactions between photochemical and bacterial degradation dynamics using a mixture of 18 amino acids and examined their dynamics and turnover rates within a larger pool of allochthonous or autochthonous DOM. We observed that photochemical exposure of DOM containing amino acids led to delayed biomass production (even though the final biomass did not differ), most likely due to a need for upregulation of biosynthetic pathways for amino acids that were damaged by photochemically produced reactive oxygen species (ROS). This response was most pronounced in bacterial communities where the abundance of photosensitive amino acids was highest (amended treatments and autochthonous DOM) and least pronounced when the abundance of these amino acids was low (unamended and allochthonous DOM), likely because these bacteria already had these biosynthetic pathways functioning. We observed both a cost and benefit associated with photochemical exposure of DOM. We observed a cost associated with photochemically produced ROS that partially degrade key amino acids and a benefit associated with an increase in the availability of other compounds in the DOM. Bacteria growing on DOM sources that are low in labile amino acids, such as those in terrestrially influenced environments, experience more of the benefits associated with photochemical exposure, whereas bacteria growing in more amino acid-rich environments, such as eutrophic and less terrestrially influenced waters, experience a higher cost due to the increased necessity of salvage pathways for these essential amino acids. Finally, we propose a conceptual model whereby the effects of DOM photochemical degradation on microbial metabolism result from the balance between two mechanisms: One is dependent on the DOM sources, and the other is dependent on the DOM concentration in natural systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)554-566
Number of pages13
JournalMicrobial ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Amino acids
  • Bacterial degradation
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Photochemical degradation


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