Binding of thorium(IV) to carboxylate, phosphate and sulfate functional groups from marine exopolymeric substances (EPS) Academic Article uri icon


  • Th(IV) isotopes are important proxies in oceanographic investigations, and are used as tracers of particle dynamics and particulate organic matter (POC) fluxes out of the euphotic zone through the use of 234Th/POC ratios. These approaches rely on empirically determined and variable POC to 234Th ratios, which might be controlled, in parts, by the abundance of exopolymeric substances (EPS). EPS contain acidic polysaccharides (APS) and are excreted by both phytoplankton and bacteria. To this end, radiotracer experiments with EPS from microbial cultures were conducted to determine the binding environment of 234Th(IV)-binding ligands in colloids and suspended particles in marine systems. In these experiments, the 234Th distribution during isoelectric focusing (IEF) and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) was related to the functional group composition of EPS and of colloidal organic matter (COM) isolated from the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) using cross-flow ultrafiltration. EPS was extracted from phytoplankton (Emiliania huxleyi and Synechococcus elongatus) and bacteria (Sagittula stellata and Roseobacter gallaeciensis) cultures by repeated alcohol precipitation. Phosphate and sulfate concentrations were determined using ion chromatography (IC). IEF profiles indicated that 49% to 65% of the 234Th-labeled EPS from plankton and bacteria as well as COM samples from the GOM was found concentrated below pH of 4, near an isoelectric point, pHIEP, of about 2. The carboxylic acid maxima for extracted EPS and COM samples appeared close to the pHIEF of 234Th(IV). The phosphate maximum appeared at the same pHIEF as 234Th(IV) for EPS from R. gallaeciensis and S. elongatus. The sulfate maximum was found at the same pHIEF as 234Th(IV) for EPS from S. elongatus and COM. The molecular weight (MW) of the strongly Th(IV)-binding ligand varied from 1 to 14 kDa, depending on the species, but was about 10 kDa in COM. Thus, depending on the species of plankton or bacteria, the MW and specific functional group composition of the strongly 234Th(IV)-binding amphiphilic biomolecule can vary. Therefore, different acidic functional groups can, at times, contribute to the binding of Th(IV) to the EPS chelating ligand, which can also have different MWs. This implies that the binding environment for Th(IV), which is present at total concentrations at least a million times lower than the acid functional groups, consists of strong polydentate chelate complexes in clustered structures of carboxylate, sulfates and/or phosphates. The combination of strongly chelating groups and amphiphilicity gives this biomolecule the unique properties of a "sticky" ligand. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

published proceedings

  • Marine Chemistry

author list (cited authors)

  • Alvarado Quiroz, N. G., Hung, C. C., & Santschi, P. H

citation count

  • 53

complete list of authors

  • Alvarado Quiroz, NG||Hung, CC||Santschi, PH

publication date

  • August 2006