Optimizing sample pretreatment for compound-specific stable carbon isotopic analysis of amino sugars in marine sediment
Amino sugars are quantitatively significant constituents of soil and marine sediment, but their sources and turnover in environmental samples remain poorly understood. The stable carbon isotopic composition of amino sugars can provide information on the lifestyles of their source organisms and can be monitored during incubations with labeled substrates to estimate the turnover rates of microbial populations. However, until now, such investigation has been carried out only with soil samples, partly because of the much lower abundance of amino sugars in marine environments. We therefore optimized a procedure for compound-specific isotopic analysis of amino sugars in marine sediment, employing gas chromatography–isotope ratio mass spectrometry. The whole procedure consisted of hydrolysis, neutralization, enrichment, and derivatization of amino sugars. Except for the derivatization step, the protocol introduced negligible isotopic fractionation, and the minimum requirement of amino sugar for isotopic analysis was 20 ng, i.e., equivalent to ~8 ng of amino sugar carbon. Compound-specific stable carbon isotopic analysis of amino sugars obtained from marine sediment extracts indicated that glucosamine and galactosamine were mainly derived from organic detritus, whereas muramic acid showed isotopic imprints from indigenous bacterial activities. The δ 13C analysis of amino sugars provides a valuable addition to the biomarker-based characterization of microbial metabolism in the deep marine biosphere, which so far has been lipid oriented and biased towards the detection of archaeal signals.