Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is the largest active organic carbon reservoir in the ocean (662 Gt C), a major fraction (> 95%) of which remains chemically uncharacterized. The concentration and isolation of DOM from seawater by ultrafiltration facilitates its chemical characterization by spectroscopic techniques. Using ultrafiltration, silver cation preparative chromatography and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), we identified 50 novel sugar compounds after hydrolysis of the high molecular weight dissolved organic matter fraction (HMWDOM; the fraction of DOM isolated after ultrafiltration). Sugars were identified by comparison of their mass spectra with those of chemically synthetized standards and with spectra previously described in the literature. Our results showed that mono- and di- methylated hexoses; mono- and di- methylated pentoses; mono- and di- methylated 6-deoxysugars, as well as heptoses, methylated heptoses, 3,6-dideoxysugars and 1,6 anhydrosugars (levoglucosan, mannosan, and galactosan) are components of HMWDOM, which may explain the low apparent yields of sugars recovered by molecular level (HPLC) analyses of HMWDOM after hydrolysis.
From three depths spanning the surface (15 m) to bathypelagic (1800 m) ocean in the North Pacific near Hawaii our results showed that mono- and di- methylated hexoses were most abundant in the surface sample (64% of the total identified methylated sugarcompounds), while at 1800m monomethylated 6-deoxy sugars were the dominant sugars (42% of the total identified methylated sugar compounds). The high diversity of mono- and di- methylated hexoses in the surface sample most likely suggests an algal and/or bacterial source, while the high abundance of methylated 6-deoxy hexoses in the deep sample points toward an important bacterial contribution because the latter sugars are mostly found in bacterial lipopolysaccharides as well as highly degraded organic material.