Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Song H-S, Stegen JC, Graham EB, Lee J-Y, Garayburu-Caruso VA, Nelson WC, Chen X, Moulton JD and Scheibe TD (2020) Representing Organic Matter Thermodynamics in Biogeochemical Reactions via Substrate-Explicit Modeling. Front. Microbiol. 11:531756. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.531756


Predictive biogeochemical modeling requires data-model integration that enables explicit representation of the sophisticated roles of microbial processes that transform substrates. Data from high-resolution organic matter (OM) characterization are increasingly available and can serve as a critical resource for this purpose, but their incorporation into biogeochemical models is often prohibited due to an over-simplified description of reaction networks. To fill this gap, we proposed a new concept of biogeochemical modeling—termed substrate-explicit modeling—that enables parameterizing OM-specific oxidative degradation pathways and reaction rates based on the thermodynamic properties of OM pools. Based on previous developments in the literature, we characterized the resulting kinetic models by only two parameters regardless of the complexity of OM profiles, which can greatly facilitate the integration with reactive transport models for ecosystem simulations by alleviating the difficulty in parameter identification. The two parameters include maximal growth rate (μmax) and harvest volume (Vh) (i.e., the volume that a microbe can access for harvesting energy). For every detected organic molecule in a given sample, our approach provides a systematic way to formulate reaction kinetics from chemical formula, which enables the evaluation of the impact of OM character on biogeochemical processes across conditions. In a case study of two sites with distinct OM thermodynamics using ultra high-resolution metabolomics datasets derived from Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry analyses, our method predicted how oxidative degradation is primarily driven by thermodynamic efficiency of OM consistent with experimental rate measurements (as shown by correlation coefficients of up to 0.61), and how biogeochemical reactions can vary in response to carbon and/or oxygen limitations. Lastly, we showed that incorporation of enzymatic regulations into substrate- explicit models is critical for more reasonable predictions. This result led us to present integrative biogeochemical modeling as a unifying framework that can ideally describe the dynamic interplay among microbes, enzymes, and substrates to address advanced questions and hypotheses in future studies. Altogether, the new modeling concept we propose in this work provides a foundational platform for unprecedented predictions of biogeochemical and ecosystem dynamics through enhanced integration with diverse experimental data and extant modeling approaches.