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Atmo-ecometabolomics: a novel atmospheric particle chemical characterization methodology for ecological research


Aerosol particles play important roles in processes controlling the composition of the atmosphere and function of ecosystems. A better understanding of the composition of aerosol particles is beginning to be recognized as critical for ecological research to further comprehend the link between aerosols and ecosystems. While chemical characterization of aerosols has been practiced in the atmospheric science community, detailed methodology tailored to the needs of ecological research does not exist yet. In this study, we describe an efficient methodology (atmo-ecometabolomics), in step-by-step details, from the sampling to the data analyses, to characterize the chemical composition of aerosol particles, namely atmo-metabolome. This method employs mass spectrometry platforms such as liquid and gas chromatography mass spectrometries (MS) and Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance MS (FT-ICR-MS). For methodology evaluation, we analyzed aerosol particles collected during two different seasons (spring and summer) in a low-biological-activity ecosystem. Additionally, to further validate our methodology, we analyzed aerosol particles collected in a more biologically active ecosystem during the pollination peaks of three different representative tree species. Our statistical results showed that our sampling and extraction methods are suitable for characterizing the atmo-ecometabolomes in these two distinct ecosystems with any of the analytical platforms. Datasets obtained from each mass spectrometry instrument showed overall significant differences of the atmo-ecometabolomes between spring and summer as well as between the three pollination peak periods. Furthermore, we have identified several metabolites that can be attributed to pollen and other plant-related aerosol particles. We additionally provide a basic guide of the potential use ecometabolomic techniques on different mass spectrometry platforms to accurately analyze the atmo-ecometabolomes for ecological studies. Our method represents an advanced novel approach for future studies in the impact of aerosol particle chemical compositions on ecosystem structure and function and biogeochemistry.

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The authors thank Rosalie Chu and Therese Clauss for their laboratory support. This research was performed using EMSL, a DOE Office of Science User Facility sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. JS and JP were supported by the European Research Council Synergy grant SyG-2013-610028 IMBALANCE-P, the Spanish Government projects CGL2013-48074-P, and the Catalan Government project SGR 2014-274. ALS was supported in part by National Science Foundation grant AGS 0952659.

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Rivas-Ubach, A., Liu, Y., Steiner, A.L. et al. Atmo-ecometabolomics: a novel atmospheric particle chemical characterization methodology for ecological research. Environ Monit Assess 191, 78 (2019).

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  • Aerosol particles
  • Metabolomics
  • Ecosystems
  • Biomarkers
  • Mass spectrometry
  • FT-ICR