Intact polar lipids in the water column of the eastern tropical North Pacific: abundance and structural variety of non-phosphorus lipids

Schubotz, Florence; Xie, Sitan; Lipp, Julius S.; Hinrichs, Kai-Uwe; Wakeham, Stuart G.

Intact polar lipids (IPLs) are the main building blocks of cellular membranes and contain chemotaxonomic, ecophysiological and metabolic information, making them valuable biomarkers in microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. This study investigates IPLs in suspended particulate matter (SPM) in the water column of the eastern tropical North Pacific Ocean (ETNP), one of the most extensive open-ocean oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) in the world, with strong gradients of nutrients, temperature and redox conditions. A wide structural variety in polar lipid head-group composition and core structures exists along physical and geochemical gradients within the water column, from the oxygenated photic zone to the aphotic OMZ. We use this structural diversity in IPLs to evaluate the ecology and ecophysiological adaptations that affect organisms inhabiting the water column, especially the mid-depth OMZ in the context of biogeochemical cycles. Diacylglycerol phospholipids are present at all depths, but exhibit the highest relative abundance and compositional variety (including mixed acyl/ether core structures) in the upper and core OMZ where prokaryotic biomass was enriched. Surface ocean SPM is dominated by diacylglycerol glycolipids that are found in photosynthetic membranes. These and other glycolipids with varying core structures composed of ceramides and hydroxylated fatty acids are also detected with varying relative abundances in the OMZ and deep oxycline, signifying additional non-phototrophic bacterial sources for these lipids. Betaine lipids (with zero or multiple hydroxylations in the core structures) that are typically assigned to microalgae are found throughout the water column down to the deep oxycline but do not show a depth-related trend in relative abundance. Archaeal IPLs comprised of glycosidic and mixed glycosidic-phosphatidic glycerol dibiphytanyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) are most abundant in the upper OMZ, where nitrate maxima point to ammonium oxidation but increase in relative abundance in the core OMZ and deep oxycline. The presence of non-phosphorus “substitute” lipids within the OMZ suggest that the indigenous microbes might be phosphorus limited (P starved) at ambient phosphate concentrations of 1 to 3.5 inline-formulaµM, although specific microbial sources for many of these lipids still remain unknown.

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Schubotz, Florence / Xie, Sitan / Lipp, Julius S. / et al: Intact polar lipids in the water column of the eastern tropical North Pacific: abundance and structural variety of non-phosphorus lipids. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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