Using Position-Specific 13C and 14C Labeling and 13C-PLFA Analysis to Assess Microbial Transformations of Free Versus Sorbed Alanine
Abstract:Sorption of charged or partially charged low molecular weight organic substances (LMWOS) to soil mineral surfaces delays microbial uptake and therefore mineralization of LMWOS to CO2, as well as all other biochemical transformations. We used position-specific labeling, a tool of isotope applications novel to soil sciences, to compare the transformation mechanisms of sorbed and non-sorbed alanine in soil. Alanine as an amino acid links C- and N-cycles in soil and therefore is a model substance for the pool of LMWOS.
To assess transformations of sorbed alanine, we added position-specific and uniformly 13C and 14C labeled alanine tracer to soil that had previously been sterilized by γ-radiation. The labeled soil was added to non-sterilized soil from the same site and incubated. Soil labeled with the same tracers without previous sorption was prepared and incubated as well. We captured the respired CO2 and determined its 14C-activity at increasing time intervals. The incorporation of 14C into microbial biomass was determined by chloroform fumigation extraction (CFE), and utilization of individual C positions by distinct microbial groups was evaluated by 13C-phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA).
A dual peak in the respired CO2 revealed two sorption mechanisms. To compare the fate of individual C atoms independent of their concentration and pool size in soil, we applied the divergence index (DI). The DI reveals the convergent or divergent behavior of C from individual molecule positions during microbial utilization. Alanine C-1 position was mainly oxidized to CO2, while its C-2 and C-3 were preferentially incorporated in microbial biomass and PLFA. This indicates that sorption by the COOH group does not protect this group from preferential oxidation. Microbial metabolism was determinative for the preferential oxidation of individual molecule positions.
The use of position-specific labeling revealed mechanisms and kinetics of microbial utilization of sorbed and non-sorbed alanine, as well as interactions between microbial groups, soils and LMWOS. None of these findings could have been achieved without the use of position-specific tracers, therefore this method will improve our understanding of stabilization processes and soil C fluxes.