Carbon isotopic fractionation in lipids from methanotrophic bacteria: Relevance for interpretation of the geochemical record of biomarkers

Roger E. Summons*, Linda L. Jahnke, Zarko Roksandic

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    307 Citations (Scopus)


    Experiments with cultured aerobic methane oxidising bacteria confirm that their biomarker lipids will be significantly depleted in 13C compared to the substrate. The methanotrophic bacteria Methylococcus capsulatus and Methylomonas methanica, grown on methane and using the RuMP cycle for carbon assimilation, show maximum 13C fractionation of approximately 30%. in the resultant biomass. In M. capsulatus, the maximum fractionation is observed in the earliest part of the exponential growth stage and decreases to approximately 16%. as cells approach stationary phase. This change may be associated with a shift from the particulate form to the soluble form of the methane monooxygenase enzyme. Less than maximum fractionation is observed when cells are grown with reduced methane availability. Biomass of M. capsulatus grown on methanol was depleted by 9%. compared to the substrate. Additional strong 13C fractionation takes place during polyisoprenoid biosynthesis in methanotrophs. The δ13C values of individual hopanoid and steroid biomarkers produced by these organisms were as much as 10%. more negative than total biomass. In individual cultures, squalene was 13C-enriched by as much as 14%. compared to the triterpane skeleton of bacteriohopaneaminopentol. Much of the isotopic dispersion in lipid metabolites could be attributed to shifts in their relative abundances, combined with an overall reduction in fractionation during the growth cycle. In cells grown on methanol, where there was no apparent effect of growth stage on overall fractionation there were still significant isotopic differences between closely related lipids including a 5.3%. difference between the hopane and 3β-methylhopane skeletons. Hopane and sterane polyisoprenoids were also 13C-depleted compared to fatty acids. These observations have significant implications for the interpretation of specific compound isotopic signatures now being measured for hydrocarbons and other lipids present in sediments and petroleum. In particular, biomarker lipids produced by a single organism do not necessarily have the same carbon isotopic composition.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2853-2863
    Number of pages11
    JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
    Issue number13
    Publication statusPublished - 1994


    Dive into the research topics of 'Carbon isotopic fractionation in lipids from methanotrophic bacteria: Relevance for interpretation of the geochemical record of biomarkers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this