Occurrence, pathways and implications of biological production of reactive oxygen species in natural waters

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Tong Zhang1, Colleen M Hansel1, Bettina M Voelker2 and Carl H Lamborg1, (1)Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (2)Colorado School Mines, Golden, CO, United States
Reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as superoxide (O2-) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) play a critical role in the redox cycling of both toxic (e.g., Hg) and nutrient (e.g., Fe) metals. Despite the discovery of extracellular ROS production in various microbial cultures, including fungi, algae and bacteria, photo-dependent processes are generally considered as the predominant source of ROS in natural waters.

Here we show that biological production of ROS is ubiquitous and occurs at a significant rate in freshwater and brackish water environments. Water samples were collected from three freshwater and one brackish water ponds in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA, periodically from 2012 to 2014. Production of O2- and H2O2 were measured in dark incubations of natural water using a chemiluminescent and a colorimetric probe, respectively. Rates of biological ROS production were obtained by comparing unfiltered with 0.2-µm filtered samples. The role of biological activity in ROS production was confirmed by the cessation of ROS production upon addition of formaldehyde. In surface water, production rates of O2- ranged from undetectable to 96.0 ± 30.0 nmol L-1 h-1, and production rates of H2O2 varied between 9.9 ± 1.3 nmol L-1 h-1 and 145.6 ± 11.2 nmol L-1 h-1. The maximum production rates of both ROS were observed in mid-summer 2013, which coincides with peak biological activity. ROS production in the water from aphotic zone was greater than in the water from photic zone. Thus, non-light dependent biological processes are likely the major contributors to ROS production in this system. Moreover, O2- production appeared to be enhanced by NADH and inhibited by proteinase-K, suggesting the possible involvement of NADH oxidoreductases in this process. The potential role of different microbial communities in ROS production, and the implications of biological ROS production for mercury speciation will also be discussed.