Molecular characterization of biodegradable dissolved organic matter using bioreactors and [12C/13C] tetramethylammonium hydroxide thermochemolysis GC-MS

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Frazier, S.W., L.A. Kaplan, and P.G. Hatcher. 2005. Environmental Science and Technology 39:1479–1491.

doi: 10.1021/es0494959


Little is known about the molecular composition of the biodegradable fraction of dissolved organic matter (BDOM) in stream ecosystems. We combined plug-flow biofilm reactors, tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) thermochemolysis GC-MS, and 13C-labeled TMAH thermochemolysis GC−MS to study the molecular composition of BDOM from two stream ecosystems. TMAH products derived from fatty acids, lignin, and other aromatic molecules were quantified using an internal standard approach. We applied the 13C-TMAH thermochemolysis procedure to differentiate between compounds in dissolved organic matter (DOM) that had natural methoxyl groups from those that acquired methoxyl groups during the TMAH reaction. In Rio Tempisquito, a stream draining a tropical evergreen forest, and White Clay Creek, a stream draining a temperate deciduous woodlands, carbohydrates, fatty acids, and lignin contributed to the DOM and BDOM molecular composition. We observed 97 different peaks in the chromatograms of streamwater, with 57% of the peaks common to both streams. The DOM and BDOM pools from each site also contained a unique suite of compounds. Our combined use of TMAH and 13C-TMAH thermochemolysis revealed that heterotrophic bacteria can selectively degrade and demethylate different types of compounds in the lignin residues of DOM. This demonstration of bacterial demethylation of lignin, an abundant and refractory plant molecule, has potential implications for global carbon cycling.