Detection of active microbial enzymes in nascent sea spray aerosol: Implications for atmospheric chemistry and climate

Malfatti, F, Lee C, Tinta T, Pendergraft MA, Celussi M, Zhou YY, Sultana CM, Rotter A, Axson JL, Collins DB, Santander MV, Morales ALA, Aluwihare LI, Riemer N, Grassian VH, Azam F, Prather KA.  2019.  Detection of active microbial enzymes in nascent sea spray aerosol: Implications for atmospheric chemistry and climate. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 6:171-177.

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bacteria, diversity, drops, engineering, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, impact, marine, organic-matter, phytoplankton, recalcitrant, seawater, system


The oceans cover nearly three-quarters of the Earth's surface and produce vast quantities of sea spray aerosols (SSA). Studies have shown that due to ocean biology SSA particles are comprised of much more than just sea salt and often include proteins, lipids, sugars, viruses, and bacteria. In this study, we show for the first time that a diverse array of microbial enzymes (protease, lipases, and alkaline phosphatase) are transferred from the ocean into the atmosphere and often become even more active with measured activities in SSA particles that are 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than those in bulk seawater. We hypothesize that these enzymatic reactions are enhanced in the interfacial environment of droplets and aerosols that can dynamically modify surface chemical species and properties. Simulations reveal that enzyme-containing SSA particles can rapidly coagulate with other preexisting aerosols, thus transferring the impact of enzyme reactions to a broad range of marine aerosols. These biotic reaction pathways are expected to profoundly change the composition of marine aerosols, particularly at the interface, and thus will impact cloud properties in marine environments. Future studies are needed to determine how photochemistry, changing ocean conditions in a warming climate, and other external factors will influence the activities of these enzymes and their impact on the composition of the marine atmosphere.