Linking Microbial Metabolism and Organic Matter Cycling Through Metabolite Distributions in the Ocean

Winifred Johnson, Ph.D., 2017
Elizabeth Kujawinski, Advisor

Key players in the marine carbon cycle are the ocean-dwelling microbes that fix, remineralize, and transform organic matter. Many of the small organic molecules in the marine carbon pool have not been well characterized and their roles in microbial physiology, ecological interactions, and carbon cycling remain largely unknown. In this dissertation metabolomics techniques were developed and used to profile and quantify a suite of metabolites in the field and in laboratory experiments. In culture experiments, the manner in which the algal metabolite, dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), causes Ruegeria pomeroyi to modify its biochemical pathways suggests anticipation by R. pomeroyi of phytoplankton-derived nutrients and higher microbial density. Targeted metabolomics was used to characterize the latitudinal and vertical distributions of particulate and dissolved metabolites in samples gathered along a transect in the Western Atlantic Ocean, identifying metabolites that have distributions that suggest abiotic, species specific, or metabolic controls on their variability. On sinking particles in the South Atlantic portion of the transect, metabolites possibly derived from degradation of organic matter increase and phytoplankton-derived metabolites decrease. Further metabolomics studies of the global distributions and interactions of marine biomolecules promise to provide new insights into microbial processes and metabolite cycling