Global and seasonal variation of marine phosphonate metabolism

Scott Lockwood, Chris Greening, Federico Baltar, Sergio E. Morales

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Marine microbial communities rely on dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) remineralisation to meet phosphorus (P) requirements. We extensively surveyed the genomic and metagenomic distribution of genes directing phosphonate biosynthesis, substrate-specific catabolism of 2-aminoethylphosphonate (2-AEP, the most abundant phosphonate in the marine environment), and broad-specificity catabolism of phosphonates by the C-P lyase (including methylphosphonate, a major source of methane). We developed comprehensive enzyme databases by curating publicly available sequences and then screened metagenomes from TARA Oceans and Munida Microbial Observatory Time Series (MOTS) to assess spatial and seasonal variation in phosphonate metabolism pathways. Phosphonate cycling genes were encoded in diverse gene clusters by 35 marine bacterial and archaeal classes. More than 65% of marine phosphonate cycling genes mapped to Proteobacteria with production demonstrating wider taxonomic diversity than catabolism. Hydrolysis of 2-AEP was the dominant phosphonate catabolism strategy, enabling microbes to assimilate carbon and nitrogen alongside P. Genes for broad-specificity catabolism by the C-P lyase were far less widespread, though enriched in the extremely P-deplete environment of the Mediterranean Sea. Phosphonate cycling genes were abundant in marine metagenomes, particularly from the mesopelagic zone and winter sampling dates. Disparity between prevalence of substrate-specific and broad-specificity catabolism may be due to higher resource expenditure from the cell to build and retain the C-P lyase. This study is the most comprehensive metagenomic survey of marine microbial phosphonate cycling to date and provides curated databases for 14 genes involved in phosphonate cycling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2198-2212
Number of pages15
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

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