Particles act as ‘specialty centers’ with expanded enzymatic function throughout the water column in the western North Atlantic

C. Chad Lloyd*, Sarah Brown, John Paul Balmonte, Adrienne Hoarfrost, Sherif Ghobrial, Carol Arnosti

*Corresponding author for this work

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Heterotrophic bacteria initiate the degradation of high molecular weight organic matter by producing an array of extracellular enzymes to hydrolyze complex organic matter into sizes that can be taken up into the cell. These bacterial communities differ spatially and temporally in composition, and potentially also in their enzymatic complements. Previous research has shown that particle-associated bacteria can be considerably more active than bacteria in the surrounding bulk water, but most prior studies of particle-associated bacteria have been focused on the upper ocean - there are few measurements of enzymatic activities of particle-associated bacteria in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic ocean, although the bacterial communities in the deep are dependent upon degradation of particulate organic matter to fuel their metabolism. We used a broad suite of substrates to compare the glucosidase, peptidase, and polysaccharide hydrolase activities of particle-associated and unfiltered seawater microbial communities in epipelagic, mesopelagic, and bathypelagic waters across 11 stations in the western North Atlantic. We concurrently determined bacterial community composition of unfiltered seawater and of samples collected via gravity filtration (>3 μm). Overall, particle-associated bacterial communities showed a broader spectrum of enzyme activities compared with unfiltered seawater communities. These differences in enzymatic activities were greater at offshore than at coastal locations, and increased with increasing depth in the ocean. The greater differences in enzymatic function measured on particles with depth coincided with increasing differences in particle-associated community composition, suggesting that particles act as ‘specialty centers’ that are essential for degradation of organic matter even at bathypelagic depths.

Original languageEnglish
Article number882333
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 28. Sept 2022


  • bathypelagic
  • biological pump
  • community composition
  • mesopelagic
  • organic matter
  • peptidase
  • polysaccharide hydrolase


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