Interannual variation in stable carbon and nitrogen isotope biogeochemistry of the Mattaponi River, Virginia
Marine snow aggregates are microbial hotspots that support high bacterial abundance and activities. We conducted laboratory experiments to compare cell-specific bacterial protein production (BPP) and protease activity between free-living and attached bacteria. Natural bacterial assemblages attached to model aggregates (agar spheres) had threefold higher BPP and two orders of magnitude higher protease activity than their free-living counterpart. These observations could be explained by preferential colonization of the agar spheres by bacteria with inherently higher metabolic activity and/or individual bacteria increasing their metabolism upon attachment to surfaces. In subsequent experiments, we used four strains of marine snow bacteria isolates to test the hypothesis that bacteria could up- and down-regulate their metabolism while on and off an aggregate. The protease activity of attached bacteria was 10-20 times higher than that of free-living bacteria, indicating that the individual strains could increase their protease activity within a short time (2 h) upon attachment to surfaces. Agar spheres with embedded diatom cells were colonized faster than plain agar spheres and the attached bacteria were clustered around the agar-embedded diatom cells, indicating a chemosensing response. Increased protease activity and BPP allow attached bacteria to quickly exploit aggregate resources upon attachment, which may accelerate remineralization of marine snow and reduce the downward carbon fluxes.