Metabolite composition of sinking particles differs from surface suspended particles across a latitudinal transect in the South Atlantic

Winifred M. Johnson, Krista Longnecker, Melissa C. Kido Soule, William A. Arnold, Maya P. Bhatia, Steven J. Hallam, Benjamin A.S. Van Mooy, Elizabeth B. Kujawinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Marine sinking particles transport carbon from the surface and bury it in deep-sea sediments, where it can be sequestered on geologic time scales. The combination of the surface ocean food web that produces these particles and the particle-associated microbial community that degrades them creates a complex set of variables that control organic matter cycling. We use targeted metabolomics to characterize a suite of small biomolecules, or metabolites, in sinking particles and compare their metabolite composition to that of the suspended particles in the euphotic zone from which they are likely derived. These samples were collected in the South Atlantic subtropical gyre, as well as in the equatorial Atlantic region and the Amazon River plume. The composition of targeted metabolites in the sinking particles was relatively similar throughout the transect, despite the distinct oceanic regions in which they were generated. Metabolites possibly derived from the degradation of nucleic acids and lipids, such as xanthine and glycine betaine, were an increased mole fraction of the targeted metabolites in the sinking particles relative to surface suspended particles, while algal-derived metabolites like the osmolyte dimethylsulfoniopropionate were a smaller fraction of the observed metabolites on the sinking particles. These compositional changes are shaped both by the removal of metabolites associated with detritus delivered from the surface ocean and by production of metabolites by the sinking particle-associated microbial communities. Furthermore, they provide a basis for examining the types and quantities of metabolites that may be delivered to the deep sea by sinking particles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-127
Number of pages17
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the captain and crew of the R/V Knorr and R/V Atlantic Explorer , as well as Justin Ossolinski, Catherine Carmichael, and Sean Sylva for helping to make this data set possible. Special thanks to Colleen Durkin for sharing her data and providing feedback on the manuscript. Funding for this work came from the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant OCE‐1154320 to EBK and KL) and a WHOI Ocean Ventures Fund award to WMJ. The instruments in the WHOI FT‐MS Facility were purchased with support from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and NSF. Support for WMJ was provided by a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship. Sequencing was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy (DOE) JGI Community Science Program (CSP) project (CSP 1685) supported by the Office of Science of US DOE Contract DE‐AC02‐ 05CH11231. Additional work related to sample collection and processing was supported by the G. Unger Vetlesen and Ambrose Monell Foundations, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institute for Advanced Study (CIFAR), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation through grants awarded to SJH. MPB was supported by a CIFAR Global Scholarship and NSERC postdoctoral fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Limnology and Oceanography published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.


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