Abstract

We determined the carbon isotope (δ13C) value of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) isolated from the organic horizons of a Delaware soil that is actively being covered by an encroaching sand dune. The soil belongs to a Nymphaea odorata Ait. (water lily) wetland, and we regard its active acquisition of a thick (∼24 cm) surface mantle to embody the process of paleopedogenesis; therefore, we have termed it an “incipient paleosol.” In this study, we compared the δ13C value of paleosol dsDNA to the bulk δ13C value of N. odorata, as well as to the δ13C value of plants that had colonized the surface mantle. The isotopic offset between paleosol δ13CdsDNA and N. odorata δ13Ctissue was identical to the relationship between δ13CdsDNA and δ13Ctissue for tracheophytes, which we had previously determined. In contrast, the isotopic offset between paleosol δ13CdsDNA and the δ13Ctissue of plants colonizing the surface mantle differed from this relationship by as much as 4‰. Similarly, the δ13C value of bulk paleosol organic matter was extremely heterogeneous and varied across 6‰. All paleosol DNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products produced clear, sharp, 350 base-pair (bp) fragments of rbcL, a gene shared by all photosynthetic organisms. These results open the exciting possibility that stable isotope analysis of dsDNA isolated from paleosol organic matter can be used to infer the δ13C value of the plant that dominated the nucleic acid contribution.

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