High rates of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) production and utilization in aquatic systems are typically attributed to microbial activity. Though it is known that there is a tight coupling between the production and consumption of biologically available DON, the composition, dynamics, and ecological significance of this rapidly cycled DON pool are less well understood. This proposal focuses on a component of the DON pool, creatine, which is historically understood as a product of metazoan activity, but appears to be both produced by phytoplankton and consumed by marine bacteria. Creatine is present in seawater in measurable quantities, which led to the hypothesis that creatine may be significant component of the marine DON cycle. DON cycling likely has a bearing on fundamental marine ecosystem processes with large implications for carbon and nitrogen turnover on a global scale. Broader impacts of this project will include outreach that focuses on connecting scientists with K-12 students through research experiences for teachers and lesson development in collaboration with the K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal, a statewide education research and development center at the University of Oklahoma. The project will integrate the research with inquiry-based teaching of rural secondary science teachers through Authentic Research Experiences in oceanographic science and microbial ecology. The K20 network includes 96% of Oklahoma schools, providing a unique opportunity to impact STEM education in Oklahoma.
The results of this project will help develop a better understanding of DON cycling, the ecological context of creatine uptake activity, and identify both creatine producing and consuming organisms in the marine environment. The importance of creatine cycling will be assessed via 15N tracer studies along the natural coastal-to-offshore productivity gradient observed in the North Atlantic. Tracer and molecular approaches will be used to investigate the importance of phytoplankton vs. bacteria in creatine uptake and, the taxonomic identities of creatine utilizing bacteria will be interrogated via molecular, stable isotope probing (SIP), and RT-qPCR approaches.