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Extramural Research

Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

Characterizing the Transformation and Metabolism of Anthropogenic Organic Matter in Estuaries Using Intact Polar Lipids: A Biomarker Approach to Ecosystem Health Assessment

EPA Grant Number: FP917443
Title: Characterizing the Transformation and Metabolism of Anthropogenic Organic Matter in Estuaries Using Intact Polar Lipids: A Biomarker Approach to Ecosystem Health Assessment
Investigators: Collins, James Robert
Institution: Woods Holes Oceanographic Institution
EPA Project Officer: Jones, Brandon
Project Period: September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012)
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Oceanography



This research will use intact polar lipid biomarkers to characterize the combined, synergistic effects of multiple environmental stressors on the processing of anthropogenic organic matter in two Massachusetts estuaries. By characterizing and quantifying the various polar lipids produced by species in the two ecosystems across a broad range of nutrient loading conditions and temperatures, the study will demonstrate the efficacy of these unique compounds as diagnostic indicators of ecosystem function.


Work will be conducted in two estuaries in coastal New England, each of which is subjected to different anthropogenic stressors. Using observations from in situ instruments and samples collected for laboratory analysis, the effects of environmental conditions on the biosynthesis and respiration of intact polar lipids by bacteria and algae will be assessed, the two groups that constitute marine plankton. Polar lipid analysis will be performed using novel techniques in high-performance liquid chromatography/ mass spectrometry. Compound-specific stable and radioisotope analysis will be used to identify the fate and origin of the organic matter that comprises each group of molecules. The daughter compounds produced through degradation and respiration of the intact polar lipids then will be identified and analyzed for their potential role in cell-cell communication under environmental stress.

Expected Results:

Because polar lipids are critical structural components of all planktonic cells, it is expected that anthropogenic stressors will be found to alter substantively the relative proportions and types of polar lipids produced by various species in the two ecosystems. In addition, it is expected that changes in polar lipid concentrations will be predictive in each estuary of the rate of community metabolism, a key determinant of water quality and ecosystem health.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
This research will yield a new, highly sensitive metric for assessing the health of coastal marine ecosystems. In addition, it is hoped that several compounds of potential biomedical interest will be isolated and identified that are produced through the degradation of polar lipids.

Supplemental Keywords:

carbon export, estuaries, ecosystem metabolism

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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