Biopolymers as carrier phases for selected natural radionuclides (of Th, Pa, Pb, Po, Be) in diatoms and coccolithophores
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Particle-associated natural radioisotopes are transported to the ocean floor mostly via silica and carbonate ballasted particles, allowing their use as tracers for particle transport. Th(IV), Pa (IV,V), Po(IV), Pb(II) and Be(II) radionuclides are important proxies in oceanographic investigations, used for tracing particle and colloid cycling, estimating export fluxes of particulate organic carbon, tracing air-sea exchange, paleoproductivity, and/or ocean circulation in paleoceanographic studies. Even though tracer approaches are considered routine, there are cases where data interpretation or validity has become controversial, largely due to uncertainties about inorganic proxies and organic carrier molecules. Recent studies showed that cleaned diatom frustules and pure silica particles, sorb natural radionuclides to a much lower extent (by 1-2 orders of magnitude) than whole diatom cells (with or without shells). Phytoplankton that build siliceous or calcareous shells, such as the diatoms and coccolithophores, are assembled via bio-mineralization processes using biopolymers as nanoscale templates. These templates could serve as possible carriers for radionuclides and stable metals.In this project, a research team at the Texas A & M University at Galveston hypothesize that radionuclide sorption is controlled by selective biopolymers that are associated with biogenic opal (diatoms), CaCO3 (coccolithophores) and the attached exopolymeric substances (EPS), rather than to pure mineral phase. To pursue this idea, the major objectives of their research will include separation, identification and molecular-level characterization of the individual biopolymers (e.g., polysaccharides, uronic acids, proteins, hydroquinones, hydroxamate siderophores, etc.) that are responsible for binding different radionuclides (Th, Pa, Pb, Po and Be) attached to cells or in the matrix of biogenic opal or CaCO3 as well as attached EPS mixture, in laboratory grown diatom and coccolithophore cultures. Laboratory-scale radiolabeling experiments will be conducted, and different separation techniques and characterization techniques will be applied. Intellectual Merit : It is expected that this study will help elucidate the molecular basis of the templated growth of diatoms and coccoliths, EPS and their role in scavenging natural radionuclides in the ocean, and help resolve debates on the oceanographic tracer applications of different natural radioisotopes (230,234Th, 231Pa, 210Po, 210Pb and 7,10Be). The proposed interdisciplinary research project will require instrumental approaches for molecular-level characterization of these radionuclides associated carrier molecules.Broader Impacts: The results of this study will be relevant for understanding biologically mediated ocean scavenging of radionuclides by diatoms and coccoliths which is important for carbon cycling in the ocean, and will contribute to improved interpretation of data obtained by field studies especially through the GEOTRACES program. This new program will enhance training programs at TAMUG for postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students. Lastly, results will be integrated in college courses and out-reach activities at Texas A&M University, including NSF-REU, Sea Camp, Elder Hostel and exhibits at the local science fair and interaction with its after-school program engaging Grade 9-12 students from groups traditionally underrepresented.