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  1. Abstract

    Organic sulfur plays a crucial role in the biogeochemistry of aquatic sediments, especially in low sulfate (< 500 μM) environments like freshwater lakes and the Earth's early oceans. To better understand organic sulfur cycling in these systems, we followed organic sulfur in the sulfate‐poor (< 40 μM) iron‐rich (30–80 μM) sediments of Lake Superior from source to sink. We identified microbial populations with shotgun metagenomic sequencing and characterized geochemical species in porewater and solid phases. In anoxic sediments, we found an active sulfur cycle fueled primarily by oxidized organic sulfur. Sediment incubations indicated a microbial capacity to hydrolyze sulfonates, sulfate esters, and sulfonic acids to sulfate. Gene abundances for dissimilatory sulfate reduction (dsrAB) increased with depth and coincided with sulfide maxima. Despite these indicators of sulfide formation, sulfide concentrations remain low (< 40 nM) due to both pyritization and organic matter sulfurization. Immediately below the oxycline, pyrite accounted for 13% of total sedimentary sulfur. Both free and intact lipids in this same interval accumulated disulfides, indicating rapid sulfurization even at low concentrations of sulfide. Our investigation revealed a new model of sulfur cycling in a low‐sulfate environment that likely extends to other modern lakes and possibly the ancient ocean, with organic sulfur both fueling sulfate reduction and consuming the resultant sulfide.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 9, 2024
  2. Rationale

    Sulfur isotope analysis of organic sulfur‐containing molecules has previously been hindered by challenging preparatory chemistry and analytical requirements for large sample sizes. The natural‐abundance sulfur isotopic compositions of the sulfur‐containing amino acids, cysteine and methionine, have therefore not yet been investigated despite potential utility in biomedicine, ecology, oceanography, biogeochemistry, and other fields.


    Cysteine and methionine were subjected to hot acid hydrolysis followed by quantitative oxidation in performic acid to yield cysteic acid and methionine sulfone. These stable, oxidized products were then separated by reversed‐phase high‐performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and verified via offline liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS). The sulfur isotope ratios (δ34S values) of purified analytes were then measured via combustion elemental analyzer coupled to isotope ratio mass spectrometry (EA/IRMS). The EA was equipped with a temperature‐ramped chromatographic column and programmable helium carrier flow rates.


    On‐column focusing of SO2in the EA/IRMS system, combined with reduced He carrier flow during elution, greatly improved sensitivity, allowing precise (0.1–0.3‰ 1 s.d.) δ34S measurements of 1 to 10 μg sulfur. We validated that our method for purification of cysteine and methionine was negligibly fractionating using amino acid and protein standards. Proof‐of‐concept measurements of fish muscle tissue and bacteria demonstrated differences up to 4‰ between the δ34S values of cysteine and methionine that can be connected to biosynthetic pathways.


    We have developed a sensitive, precise method for measuring the natural‐abundance sulfur isotopic compositions of cysteine and methionine isolated from biological samples. This capability opens up diverse applications of sulfur isotopes in amino acids and proteins, from use as a tracer in organisms and the environment, to fundamental aspects of metabolism and biosynthesis.

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