Methanol Production by a Broad Phylogenetic Array of Marine Phytoplankton. Academic Article uri icon


  • Methanol is a major volatile organic compound on Earth and serves as an important carbon and energy substrate for abundant methylotrophic microbes. Previous geochemical surveys coupled with predictive models suggest that the marine contributions are exceedingly large, rivaling terrestrial sources. Although well studied in terrestrial ecosystems, methanol sources are poorly understood in the marine environment and warrant further investigation. To this end, we adapted a Purge and Trap Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (P&T-GC/MS) method which allowed reliable measurements of methanol in seawater and marine phytoplankton cultures with a method detection limit of 120 nanomolar. All phytoplankton tested (cyanobacteria: Synechococcus spp. 8102 and 8103, Trichodesmium erythraeum, and Prochlorococcus marinus), and Eukarya (heterokont diatom: Phaeodactylum tricornutum, coccolithophore: Emiliania huxleyi, cryptophyte: Rhodomonas salina, and non-diatom heterokont: Nannochloropsis oculata) produced methanol, ranging from 0.8-13.7 micromolar in culture and methanol per total cellular carbon were measured in the ranges of 0.09-0.3%. Phytoplankton culture time-course measurements displayed a punctuated production pattern with maxima near early stationary phase. Stabile isotope labeled bicarbonate incorporation experiments confirmed that methanol was produced from phytoplankton biomass. Overall, our findings suggest that phytoplankton are a major source of methanol in the upper water column of the world's oceans.

publication date

  • 2016