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1.  Diet quality influences isotopic discrimination among amino acids in an aquatic vertebrate 
Ecology and Evolution  2015;5(10):2048-2059.
Stable nitrogen isotopic composition of amino acids (δ15NAA) has recently been employed as a powerful tool in ecological food web studies, particularly for estimating the trophic position (TP) of animal species in food webs. However, the validity of these estimates depends on the consistency of the trophic discrimination factor (TDF; - Δδ15NAA at each shift of trophic level) among a suite of amino acids within the tissues of consumer species. In this study, we determined the TDF values of amino acids in tadpoles (the Japanese toad, Bufo japonicus) reared exclusively on one of three diets that differed in nutritional quality. The diets were commercial fish-food pellets (plant and animal biomass), bloodworms (animal biomass), and boiled white rice (plant carbohydrate), representing a balanced, protein-rich, and protein-poor diet, respectively. The TDF values of two “source amino acids” (Src-AAs), methionine and phenylalanine, were close to zero (0.3–0.5‰) among the three diets, typifying the values reported in the literature (∼0.5‰ and ∼0.4‰, respectively). However, TDF values of “trophic amino acids” (Tr-AAs) including alanine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, and glutamic acid varied by diet: for example, the glutamic acid TDF was similar to the standard value (∼8.0‰) when tadpoles were fed either the commercial pellets (8.0‰) or bloodworms (7.9‰), but when they were fed boiled rice, the TDF was significantly reduced (0.6‰). These results suggest that a profound lack of dietary protein may alter the TDF values of glutamic acid (and other Tr-AAs and glycine) within consumer species, but not the two Src-AAs (i.e., methionine and phenylalanine). Knowledge of how a nutritionally poor diet can influence the TDF of Tr- and Src-AAs will allow amino acid isotopic analyses to better estimate TP among free-roaming animals.
PMCID: PMC4449758  PMID: 26045955
Amino acids; diet quality; food web; nitrogen isotopic composition; trophic discrimination factor
2.  High-resolution food webs based on nitrogen isotopic composition of amino acids 
Ecology and Evolution  2014;4(12):2423-2449.
Food webs are known to have myriad trophic links between resource and consumer species. While herbivores have well-understood trophic tendencies, the difficulties associated with characterizing the trophic positions of higher-order consumers have remained a major problem in food web ecology. To better understand trophic linkages in food webs, analysis of the stable nitrogen isotopic composition of amino acids has been introduced as a potential means of providing accurate trophic position estimates. In the present study, we employ this method to estimate the trophic positions of 200 free-roaming organisms, representing 39 species in coastal marine (a stony shore) and 38 species in terrestrial (a fruit farm) environments. Based on the trophic positions from the isotopic composition of amino acids, we are able to resolve the trophic structure of these complex food webs. Our approach reveals a high degree of trophic omnivory (i.e., noninteger trophic positions) among carnivorous species such as marine fish and terrestrial hornets.This information not only clarifies the trophic tendencies of species within their respective communities, but also suggests that trophic omnivory may be common in these webs.
PMCID: PMC4203290  PMID: 25360278
Carnivores; compound-specific isotope analysis; ecosystem; herbivores; omnivores; predators; primary producers; trophic position
3.  Mammalian DNA δ15N exhibits 40‰ intramolecular variation and is unresponsive to dietary protein level 
We report the first high precision characterization of molecular and intramolecular δ15N of nucleosides derived from mammalian DNA. The influence of dietary protein level on brain amino acids and deoxyribonucleosides was determined to investigate whether high protein turnover would alter amino acid 15N or 13C. Pregnant guinea pig dams were fed control diets, or high or low levels of dietary protein throughout gestation, and all pups were fed control diets. Cerebellar DNA of offspring was extracted at 2 and 120 days of life, nucleosides isolated and δ15N and δ13C characterized. Mean diet δ15N = 0.45±0.33‰, compared to cerebellar whole tissue and DNA δ15N = +4.1±0.7‰ and −4.5±0.4‰, respectively. Cerebellar deoxythymidine (dT), deoxycytidine (dC), deoxyadenosine (dA), and deoxyguanosine (dG) δ15N were +1.4±0.4, −2.1±0.9, −7.2±0.3, and −10.4±0.5‰, respectively. There were no changes in amino acid or deoxyribonucleoside δ15N due to dietary protein level. Using known metabolic relationships, we developed equations to calculate the intramolecular δ15N originating from aspartate (asp) in purines (pur) or pyrimidines (pyr), glutamine (glu), and glycine (gly) to be δ15NASP-PUR, δ15NASP-PYR, δ15NGLN, and δ15NGLY +11.9±2.3‰, +7.0±2.0‰, −9.1±2.4‰, and −31.8±8.9‰, respectively. A subset of twelve amino acids from food and brain had mean δ15N of 4.3±3.2‰ and 13.8±3.1‰, respectively, and δ15N for gly and asp were 12.6±2.2‰ and 15.2±0.8‰, respectively. A separate isotope tracer study detected no significant turnover of cerebellar DNA in the first six months of life. The large negative δ15N difference between gly and cerebellar purine N at the gly (7) position implies either that there is a major isotope effect during DNA synthesis, or that in utero gly has a different isotope ratio during rapid growth and metabolism than in adult life. Our data show that cerebellar nucleoside intramolecular δ15N vary over more than 40‰ and are not influenced by dietary protein level or age.
PMCID: PMC4029896  PMID: 22095504
4.  A low trophic position of Japanese eel larvae indicates feeding on marine snow 
Biology Letters  2013;9(1):20120826.
What eel larvae feed on in the surface layer of the ocean has remained mysterious. Gut contents and bulk nitrogen stable isotope studies suggested that these unusual larvae, called leptocephali, feed at a low level in the oceanic food web, whereas other types of evidence have suggested that small zooplankton are eaten. In this study, we determined the nitrogen isotopic composition of amino acids of both natural larvae and laboratory-reared larvae of the Japanese eel to estimate the trophic position (TP) of leptocephali. We observed a mean TP of 2.4 for natural leptocephali, which is consistent with feeding on particulate organic matter (POM) such as marine snow and discarded appendicularian houses containing bacteria, protozoans and other biological materials. The nitrogen isotope enrichment values of the reared larvae confirm that the primary food source of natural larvae is consistent only with POM. This shows that leptocephali feed on readily available particulate material originating from various sources closely linked to ocean primary production and that leptocephali are a previously unrecognized part of oceanic POM cycling.
PMCID: PMC3565492  PMID: 23134783
trophic ecology; leptocephali; amino acid nitrogen isotopes; Japanese eel; particulate organic matter
5.  Trophic Hierarchies Illuminated via Amino Acid Isotopic Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e76152.
Food web ecologists have long sought to characterize the trophic niches of animals using stable isotopic analysis. However, distilling trophic position from isotopic composition has been difficult, largely because of the variability associated with trophic discrimination factors (inter-trophic isotopic fractionation and routing). We circumvented much of this variability using compound-specific isotopic analysis (CSIA). We examined the 15N signatures of amino acids extracted from organisms reared in pure culture at four discrete trophic levels, across two model communities. We calculated the degree of enrichment at each trophic level and found there was a consistent trophic discrimination factor (~7.6‰). The constancy of the CSIA-derived discrimination factor permitted unprecedented accuracy in the measurement of animal trophic position. Conversely, trophic position estimates generated via bulk-15N analysis significantly underestimated trophic position, particularly among higher-order consumers. We then examined the trophic hierarchy of a free-roaming arthropod community, revealing the highest trophic position (5.07) and longest food chain ever reported using CSIA. High accuracy in trophic position estimation brings trophic function into sharper focus, providing greater resolution to the analysis of food webs.
PMCID: PMC3783375  PMID: 24086703
6.  Algivore or Phototroph? Plakobranchus ocellatus (Gastropoda) Continuously Acquires Kleptoplasts and Nutrition from Multiple Algal Species in Nature 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e42024.
The sea slug Plakobranchus ocellatus (Sacoglossa, Gastropoda) retains photosynthetically active chloroplasts from ingested algae (functional kleptoplasts) in the epithelial cells of its digestive gland for up to 10 months. While its feeding behavior has not been observed in natural habitats, two hypotheses have been proposed: 1) adult P. ocellatus uses kleptoplasts to obtain photosynthates and nutritionally behaves as a photoautotroph without replenishing the kleptoplasts; or 2) it behaves as a mixotroph (photoautotroph and herbivorous consumer) and replenishes kleptoplasts continually or periodically. To address the question of which hypothesis is more likely, we examined the source algae for kleptoplasts and temporal changes in kleptoplast composition and nutritional contribution. By characterizing the temporal diversity of P. ocellatus kleptoplasts using rbcL sequences, we found that P. ocellatus harvests kleptoplasts from at least 8 different siphonous green algal species, that kleptoplasts from more than one species are present in each individual sea slug, and that the kleptoplast composition differs temporally. These results suggest that wild P. ocellatus often feed on multiple species of siphonous algae from which they continually obtain fresh chloroplasts. By estimating the trophic position of wild and starved P. ocellatus using the stable nitrogen isotopic composition of amino acids, we showed that despite the abundance of kleptoplasts, their photosynthates do not contribute greatly to the nutrition of wild P. ocellatus, but that kleptoplast photosynthates form a significant source of nutrition for starved sea slugs. The herbivorous nature of wild P. ocellatus is consistent with insights from molecular analyses indicating that kleptoplasts are frequently replenished from ingested algae, leading to the conclusion that natural populations of P. ocellatus do not rely on photosynthesis but mainly on the digestion of ingested algae.
PMCID: PMC3404988  PMID: 22848693
7.  Lateral transfer of tetrahymanol-synthesizing genes has allowed multiple diverse eukaryote lineages to independently adapt to environments without oxygen 
Biology Direct  2012;7:5.
Sterols are key components of eukaryotic cellular membranes that are synthesized by multi-enzyme pathways that require molecular oxygen. Because prokaryotes fundamentally lack sterols, it is unclear how the vast diversity of bacterivorous eukaryotes that inhabit hypoxic environments obtain, or synthesize, sterols. Here we show that tetrahymanol, a triterpenoid that does not require molecular oxygen for its biosynthesis, likely functions as a surrogate of sterol in eukaryotes inhabiting oxygen-poor environments. Genes encoding the tetrahymanol synthesizing enzyme squalene-tetrahymanol cyclase were found from several phylogenetically diverged eukaryotes that live in oxygen-poor environments and appear to have been laterally transferred among such eukaryotes.
This article was reviewed by Eric Bapteste and Eugene Koonin.
PMCID: PMC3317845  PMID: 22296756
eukaryotes; lateral gene transfer; phagocytosis; sterols; tetrahymanol

Results 1-7 (7)