Soil Organic Nitrogen - Investigation of Soil Amino Acids and Proteinaceous Compounds
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Soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) are predominantly in organic form. Proteins/ peptides, as an important organic form of N, constitute a substantial part of soil organic matter. On one hand, proteins/peptides are an important N source for plants and microorganisms, particularly in soils where inorganic N is limited. On the other hand, their stabilization in soils by forming organo-mineral associates or macromolecule complex reduces the C loss as CO2 into the atmosphere. Therefore, studies on the turnover, abundance, composition, and stability of proteins/peptides are of crucial importance to agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. In the first part of this study, the bioavailability and distribution of amino acids, (building block of proteins/peptides), were investigated, in soils across the North-South and West-East transects of continental United States. The second part of this study aimed to understand the variations of organic C speciation in soils of continental United States. Previous investigations of the interactions between soil minerals and proteins/peptides were mostly limited to batch sorption experiments in labs, seldom of which gave the details at the molecular scales. Therefore, in the third part of this study, the molecular orientation of self-assembled oligopeptides on mineral surfaces was investigated by employing synchrotron based polarization-dependent Near Edge X-ray Adsorption Fine Structure Spectroscopy (NEXAFS) techniques. Specific aims of this study were: 1) to assess potentially bioavailable pool of proteinaceous compounds and the immediately bioavailable pool of free amino acids in surface and subsurface soils of various ecosystems; 2) to evaluate the relationship between environmental factors and levels/composition of the two pools; 3) to investigate the organic C speciation in soils of various land use; and 4) to understand molecular level surface organization of small peptides on mineral surfaces. The levels of free amino acids and hydrolysable amino acids which represent the potentially bioavailable pool of proteinaceous compounds in A-horizon soils were significantly high than in C-horizon soils due to the accumulation of organic matter in surface. On average, free amino acids accounted for less than 4 % of hydrolysable amino acids which represent the total proteinaceous compounds in soils. The composition of free amino acids was significantly different between surface soil and subsurface soil and was significantly influenced by mean annual temperature and precipitation. A relatively uniform composition of hydrolysable amino acids was observed irrespective of a wide range of land use. Significant variations were observed for the levels of free and hydrolysable amino acids along mean annual temperature and precipitation gradients, as well as among vegetation types of continental USA, suggesting levels of free and hydrolysable amino acids were associated with the above-ground biomass and root distribution. Organic C speciation investigation revealed the presence of carboxylic-C (38%), aliphatic-C (~ 22%), aromatic-C (~ 18%), O/N-alkyl-C (~ 16%), and phenolic-C (< 6%). Factors such as temperature and vegetation cover were revealed in this study to account for the fluctuations of the proportions of aromatic-C and phenolic-C, in particular. Phenolic-C may serve as a good indicator for the effect of temperature or vegetation on the composition of SOC. The average composition of soil organic C, over the continental scale, was relatively uniform over various soil ecosystems and between two soil horizons irrespective of surface organic C content. Polarization dependent NEXAFS analysis showed the oligopeptides tend to orient on mineral surface with an average tilt angle of 40 ° between the molecular chain and the mineral surface.
- Doctoral Dissertations