Oxygen isotope effects during microbial sulfate reduction: applications to sediment cell abundances

E. Bertran, A. Waldeck, B. A. Wing, I. Halevy, W. D. Leavitt, A. S. Bradley, D. T. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The majority of anaerobic biogeochemical cycling occurs within marine sediments. To understand these processes, quantifying the distribution of active cells and gross metabolic activity is essential. We present an isotope model rooted in thermodynamics to draw quantitative links between cell-specific sulfate reduction rates and active sedimentary cell abundances. This model is calibrated using data from a series of continuous culture experiments with two strains of sulfate reducing bacteria (freshwater bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris strain Hildenborough, and marine bacterium Desulfovibrio alaskensis strain G-20) grown on lactate across a range of metabolic rates and ambient sulfate concentrations. We use a combination of experimental sulfate oxygen isotope data and nonlinear regression fitting tools to solve for unknown kinetic, step-specific oxygen isotope effects. This approach enables identification of key isotopic reactions within the metabolic pathway, and defines a new, calibrated framework for understanding oxygen isotope variability in sulfate. This approach is then combined with porewater sulfate/sulfide concentration data and diagenetic modeling to reproduce measured 18O/16O in porewater sulfate. From here, we infer cell-specific sulfate reduction rates and predict abundance of active cells of sulfate reducing bacteria, the result of which is consistent with direct biological measurements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1508-1519
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


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