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The heterogeneous nature of microbial products as shown by solid-state13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy


Homoionic Na-, Ca-, and Al-clays were prepared from the <2 μm fractions of Georgia kaolinite and Wyoming bentonite and mixed with sand to give artificial soils with 5, and 25% clay. The artificial soils were inoculated with microbes from a natural soil before incubation. Unlabelled and uniformly13C-labelled (99.9% atom) glucose were incorporated into the artificial soils to study the effects of clay types, exchangeable cations and clay contents on the mineralization of glucose-carbon and glucose-derived organic materials. Chemical transformation of glucose-carbon upon incorporation into microbial products and metabolites, was followed using solid-state13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy.

There was a significant influence of exchangeable cations on the mineralization of glucose-carbon over a period of 33 days. At 25% clay content, mineralization of glucose-carbon was highest in Ca-soils and lowest in Al-soils. The influence of exchangeable cations on mineralization of glucose-carbon was more pronounced in soils with bentonite clay than those with kaolinite clay. Statistical analysis of data showed no overall effect of clay type on mineralization of glucose-carbon. However, the interactions of clay type with clay content and clay type with clay content and exchangeable cations were highly significant. At 25% clay content, the mineralization of glucose-carbon was significantly lower in Na- and Al-soils with Wyoming bentonite compared with Na- and Al-soils with Georgia kaolinite. For Ca-soils this difference was not significant. Due to the increased osmotic tension induced by the added glucose, mineralization of glucose-carbon was slower in soils with 5% clay than soils with 25% clay.

Despite the differences in the chemical and physical characteristics of soils with Ca-, Na- and Al-clays, the chemical composition of organic materials synthesised in these soils were similar in nature. Assuming CP/MAS is quantitative, incorporation of uniformly13C-labelled glucose (99.9% atom) in these soils resulted in distribution of carbon in alkyl (24–25%), O-alkyl (56–63%), carbonyl (11–15%) and small amounts of aromatic and olefinic carbon (2–4%). However, as decomposition proceeded, the chemistry of synthesised material showed some changes with time. In the Ca- and Na-soils, the proportions of alkyl and carbonyl carbon decreased and that of O-alkyl carbon increased with time of incubation. However, the opposite trend was found for the Al-soil.

Proton-spin relaxation editing (PSRE) subspectra clearly showed heterogeneity within the microbial products. Subspectra of the slowly-relaxing (long T1(H)) domains were dominated by alkyl carbon in long- and short-chain structures. The signals due to N-alkyl (55 ppm) and carbonyl carbon were also strong in these subspectra. These subspectra were very similar to those obtained for microbial and fungal materials and were probably microbial tissues attached to clay surfaces by polysaccharide extracellular mucilage. Subspectra of fast-relaxing (short T1(H)) domains comprised mostly O-alkyl and carbonyl carbon and were probably microbial metabolites released as neutral and acidic sugars into the extracellular environment, and strongly sorbed by clay surfaces.

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Golchin, A., Clarke, P. & Oades, J.M. The heterogeneous nature of microbial products as shown by solid-state13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy. Biogeochemistry 34, 71–97 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02180974

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Key words

  • 13C CP/MAS NMR
  • 13C-labelled glucose
  • homoionic clay
  • microbial products
  • mineralization
  • soil organic matter