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  1. The speciation of most biologically active trace metals in seawater is dominated by complexation by organic ligands. This review traces the history of work in this area, from the early observations that showed surprisingly poor recoveries using metal preconcentration protocols to the present day, where advances in mass spectroscopy and stable isotope geochemistry are providing new insights into the structure, origin, fate, and biogeochemical impact of organic ligands. Many long-standing hypotheses about the specific biological origin of ligands such as siderophores in seawater are finally being validated. This work has revealed the complexity of organic complexation, with multiple ligands and, in some cases, timescales of ligand exchange that are much slower than originally thought. The influence of organic complexation on scavenging is now a key parameter in biogeochemical models of biologically essential metals, especially iron. New insights about the sources and sinks of ligands are required to enhance the usefulness of these models.

    Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Marine Science, Volume 16 is January 2024. Please see for revised estimates. 

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 3, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Marine dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen (DOC and DON) are major global carbon and nutrient reservoirs, and their characterization relies on extraction methods for preconcentration and salt removal. Existing methods optimize for capturing and describing DOC. Here, we report an optimized analytical strategy to recover marine DON for subsequent molecular characterization. Retention efficiencies between 5% and 95% are reported for seven solid phase extraction (SPE) sorbents, with PPL recovering 23% of marine DON compared to 95% recovered with C18. Additional comparisons of the effect of varying sample volumes and elution speed, and the resulting molecular composition of DON extracts, were investigated using C18and PPL sorbents. Sample volumes > 200 mL decreased DON retention efficiency independent of SPE sorbent, and gravity elution recovered 1.7‐ to 4.2‐fold more DON compared to vacuum elution. Characterization of extracted DON by negative‐ion electrospray ionization Fourier transform‐ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT‐ICR MS) highlights compositional differences between DON species recovered by each method. DON isolated with optimized methods includes low molecular weight (< 600 Da) peptide‐like compounds with low O:C ratios (0.2 to 0.5) that are not detected by other SPE sorbents (e.g., PPL). The majority of additional DON isolated with this approach was undetectable by direct infusion negative mode FT‐ICR MS analysis.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    Metabolites that incorporate elements other than carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen can be selectively detected by inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICPMS). When used in parallel with chromatographic separations and conventional electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESIMS), ICPMS allows the analyst to quickly find, characterize and identify target metabolites that carry nutrient elements (P, S, trace metals; “nutrient metabolites”), which are of particular interest to investigations of microbial biogeochemical cycles. This approach has been applied to the study of siderophores and other trace metal organic ligands in the ocean. The original method used mass search algorithms that relied on the ratio of stable isotopologues of iron, copper and nickel to assign mass spectra collected by ESIMS to metabolites carrying these elements detected by ICPMS. However, while isotopologue-based mass assignment algorithms were highly successful in characterizing metabolites that incorporate some trace metals, they do not realize the whole potential of the ICPMS/ESIMS approach as they cannot be used to assign the molecular ions of metabolites with monoisotopic elements or elements for which the ratio of stable isotopes is not known. Here we report a revised ICPMS/ESIMS method that incorporates a number of changes to the configuration of instrument hardware that improves sensitivity of the method by a factor of 4–5, and allows for more accurate quantitation of metabolites. We also describe a new suite of mass search algorithms that can find and characterize metabolites that carry monoisotopic elements. We used the new method to identify siderophores in a laboratory culture of Vibrio cyclitrophicus and a seawater sample collected in the North Pacific Ocean, and to assign molecular ions to monoisotopic cobalt and iodine nutrient metabolites in extracts of a laboratory culture of the marine cyanobacterium Prochorococcus MIT9215. 
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  4. Abstract

    Coastal upwelling of nutrients and metals along eastern boundary currents fuels some of the most biologically productive marine ecosystems. Although iron is a main driver of productivity in many of these regions, iron cycling and acquisition by microbes remain poorly constrained, in part due to the unknown composition of organic ligands that keep bioavailable iron in solution. In this study, we investigated organic ligand composition in discrete water samples collected across the highly productive California Coastal upwelling system. Siderophores were observed in distinct nutrient regimes at concentrations ranging from 1 pM to 18 pM. Near the shallow continental shelf, ferrioxamine B was observed in recently upwelled, high chlorophyll surface waters while synechobactins were identified within nepheloid layers at 60–90 m depth. In offshore waters characterized by intermediate chlorophyll, iron, and nitrate concentrations, we found amphibactins and an unknown siderophore with a molecular formula of C33H58O8N5Fe. Highest concentrations were measured in the photic zone, however, amphibactins were also found in waters as deep as 1500 m. The distribution of siderophores provides evidence for microbial iron deficiency across a range of nutrient regimes and indicates siderophore production and acquisition is an important strategy for biological iron uptake in iron limited coastal systems. Polydisperse humic ligands were also detected throughout the water column and were particularly abundant near the benthic boundary. Our results highlight the fine‐scale spatial heterogeneity of metal ligand composition in an upwelling environment and elucidate distinct sources that include biological production and the degradation of organic matter in suboxic waters.

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