Kinetics of soil microbial uptake of free amino acids
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Amino acids and proteins typically form the biggest input of organic-N into most soils and provide a readily available source of C and N for soil microorganisms. Amino acids can also be taken up directly by plant roots, providing an alternative source of available soil N. However, the degree to which plants can compete against the soil microbial population for amino acids in soil solution remains poorly understood. The aim of this study was to measure the rate of microbial uptake of three contrastingly charged 14C-labelled amino acids (glutamate1–, glycine0, lysine0.9+) over a wide concentration range (0.1–5 mM) and in two contrastingly managed soils varying in their degree of erosion, organic-C content and microbial biomass. Amino acid uptake was concentration dependent and conformed to a single Michaelis-Menten equation. The mean maximum amino acid uptake rate (Vmax) for the non-eroded (control) soil (high organic-C, high biomass) was 0.13±0.02 mmol kg–1 h–1, while half maximal uptake occurred at a concentration (Km) of 2.63±0.07 mM. Typically, Vmax was fourfold lower and Km twofold lower in the eroded soil (low available organic-C, low biomass) compared to the non-eroded (control) soil. Amino acid substrate concentration had little effect on the proportion of amino acid utilized in catabolic versus anabolic metabolism and was similar for both. While the results obtained here represent the summation of kinetics for a mixed soil population, they indicate that amino acid uptake is saturated at concentrations within the millimolar range. Because the affinity constants also were similar to those described for plant roots, we hypothesized that competition for amino acids between plants and microbes will be strong in soil but highly dependent upon the spatial distribution of roots and microbes in soil.
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