• Open Access

Transporter genes expressed by coastal bacterioplankton in response to dissolved organic carbon


  • Present addresses: Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91125, USA; Center for Research in Biological Systems, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive #0446, La Jolla, CA 92093-0446, USA; §Department of Biological Sciences, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242, USA.

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*E-mail mmoran@uga.edu; Tel. (+1) 706 542 6481; Fax (+1) 706 542 5888.


Coastal ocean bacterioplankton control the flow of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from terrestrial and oceanic sources into the marine food web, and regulate the release of inorganic carbon to atmospheric and offshore reservoirs. While the fate of the chemically complex coastal DOC reservoir has long been recognized as a critical feature of the global carbon budget, it has been problematic to identify both the compounds that serve as major conduits for carbon flux and the roles of individual bacterioplankton taxa in mediating that flux. Here we analyse random libraries of expressed genes from a coastal bacterial community to identify sequences representing DOC-transporting proteins. Predicted substrates of expressed transporter genes indicated that carboxylic acids, compatible solutes, polyamines and lipids may be key components of the biologically labile DOC pool in coastal waters, in addition to canonical bacterial substrates such as amino acids, oligopeptides and carbohydrates. Half of the expressed DOC transporter sequences in this coastal ocean appeared to originate from just eight taxa: Roseobacter, SAR11, Flavobacteriales and five orders of γ-Proteobacteria. While all major taxa expressed transporter genes for some DOC components (e.g. amino acids), there were indications of specialization within the bacterioplankton community for others (e.g. carbohydrates, carboxylic acids and polyamines). Experimental manipulations of the natural DOC pool that increased the concentration of phytoplankton- or vascular plant-derived compounds invoked a readily measured response in bacterial transporter gene expression. This highly resolved view of the potential for carbon flux into heterotrophic bacterioplankton cells identifies possible bioreactive components of the coastal DOC pool and highlights differing ecological roles in carbon turnover for the resident bacterial taxa.