Simple plant and microbial exudates destabilize mineral-Associated organic matter via multiple pathways

Hui Li, Tobias Bolscher, Matthew Winnick, Malak M. Tfaily, Zoe G. Cardon, Marco Keiluweit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Most mineral-Associated organic matter (MAOM) is protected against microbial attack, thereby contributing to longterm carbon storage in soils. However, the extent to which reactive compounds released by plants and microbes may destabilize MAOM and so enhance microbial access, as well as the underlying mechanisms, remain unclear. Here, we tested the ability of functionally distinct model exudates-ligands, reductants, and simple sugars-To promote microbial utilization of monomeric MAOM, bound via outer-sphere complexes to common iron and aluminum (hydr)oxide minerals. The strong ligand oxalic acid induced rapid MAOM mineralization, coinciding with greater sorption to and dissolution of minerals, suggestive of direct MAOM mobilization mechanisms. In contrast, the simple sugar glucose caused slower MAOM mineralization, but stimulated microbial activity and metabolite production, indicating an indirect microbially-mediated mechanism. Catechol, acting as reductant, promoted both mechanisms. While MAOM on ferrihydrite showed the greatest vulnerability to both direct and indirect mechanisms, MAOM on other (hydr)oxides was more susceptible to direct mechanisms. These findings suggest that MAOM persistence, and thus longterm carbon storage within a given soil, is not just a function of mineral reactivity but also depends on the capacity of plant roots and associated microbes to produce reactive compounds capable of triggering specific destabilization mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3389-3398
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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