Inorganic polyphosphate in the marine environment: field observations and new analytical techniques
Diaz, Julia M.
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Phosphorus (P) is a requirement for biological growth, but this vital nutrient is present at low or limiting concentrations across vast areas of the global surface ocean. Inorganic polyphosphate (poly-P), a linear polymer of at least three orthophosphate units, is one component of the marine P cycle that has been relatively overlooked as compared to other P species, owing in part to a lack of routine analytical techniques that cleanly evaluate it within samples. This thesis demonstrates that inorganic poly-P is a quantitatively significant and dynamic component of the global marine P cycle while also establishing two new techniques for its analysis in biological and environmental samples. In Chapter 2, experiments using the freshwater algae Chlamydomonas sp. and Chlorella sp. illustrate X-ray fluorescence spectromicroscopy as a powerful tool for the sub-micron scale assessment of poly-P composition in organisms. This method enabled the discovery, detailed in Chapter 3, of a mechanism for the long-term sequestration of the vital nutrient P from marine systems via the initial formation of poly-P in surface waters and its eventual transformation into the mineral apatite within sediments. The importance of marine poly-P is furthermore established in Chapter 3 by observations showing that naturally-occurring poly-P represents 7-11% of total P in particles and dissolved matter in Effingham Inlet, a eutrophic fjord located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In Chapter 4, a new fluorometric protocol based on the interaction of inorganic poly-P with 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) is established as a technique for the direct quantification of poly-P in environmental samples. Chapter 5 presents work from Effingham Inlet utilizing this method that show that inorganic poly-P plays a significant role in the redox-sensitive cycling of P in natural systems.