Phosphate-limited ocean regions select for bacterial populations enriched in the carbon-phosphorus lyase pathway for phosphonate degradation. Academic Article uri icon


  • In tropical and subtropical oceanic surface waters phosphate scarcity can limit microbial productivity. However, these environments also have bioavailable forms of phosphorus incorporated into dissolved organic matter (DOM) that microbes with the necessary transport and hydrolysis metabolic pathways can access to supplement their phosphorus requirements. In this study we evaluated how the environment shapes the abundance and taxonomic distribution of the bacterial carbon-phosphorus (C-P) lyase pathway, an enzyme complex evolved to extract phosphate from phosphonates. Phosphonates are organophosphorus compounds characterized by a highly stable C-P bond and are enriched in marine DOM. Similar to other known bacterial adaptions to low phosphate environments, C-P lyase was found to become more prevalent as phosphate concentrations decreased. C-P lyase was particularly enriched in the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, two regions that feature sustained periods of phosphate depletion. In these regions, C-P lyase was prevalent in several lineages of Alphaproteobacteria (Pelagibacter, SAR116, Roseobacter and Rhodospirillales), Gammaproteobacteria, and Actinobacteria. The global scope of this analysis supports previous studies that infer phosphonate catabolism via C-P lyase is an important adaptive strategy implemented by bacteria to alleviate phosphate limitation and expands the known geographic extent and taxonomic affiliation of this metabolic pathway in the ocean.

publication date

  • July 2019