pp 1–9 | Cite as

2H-enrichment of cellulose and n-alkanes in heterotrophic plants

  • M.-A. CormierEmail author
  • R. A. Werner
  • M. C. Leuenberger
  • A. Kahmen
Physiological ecology – original research


Hydrogen (H) isotopes of plant organic compounds are rarely employed in ecological studies. If so, these values are interpreted as being indicative of the plant source and/or leaf water. Recent observations suggest, however, that variations in hydrogen isotope fractionation that occur during the biosynthesis of plant compounds (2H-εbio) imprint valuable metabolic information into the hydrogen isotope composition (δ2H values) of plant organic compounds. Here we show a consistent 2H-enrichment of compounds in heterotrophically growing plants across a series of autotrophic/heterotrophic plant pairs. We suggest that this is due to a higher recycling of compounds in the Calvin and tricarboxylic acid cycles in heterotrophic plants that is associated with a more complete exchange of C-bound H with the surrounding 2H-enriched foliar water. Interestingly, we found that 2H-enrichment in heterotrophic plants was larger for carbohydrates than for lipids, with an average 2H-enrichment of 76 ± 9‰ in α-cellulose and 23 ± 23‰ in n-alkanes. We propose that this systematically larger 2H-enrichment for carbohydrates than for lipids is either due to different level of 2H-fractionation associated with heterotrophically produced NADPH, or to the potential uptake of lipids by heterotrophic plants. With the work we present here, we contribute to a better mechanistic understanding of what the biochemical principles are that couple the carbohydrate dynamics of plants to their δ2H values and hope to foster as such the application of H isotopes in plant sciences.


Alkanes Cellulose Hydrogen isotopes Plant metabolism Parasitic plants 



M. A. C. was funded by the ERC starting Grant COSIWAX (ERC-2011-StG Grant Agreement no. 279518) to A. K. We thank Rolf Siegwolf (Paul Scherrer Institut, Switzerland) and Adam Kimak (University of Bern, Switzerland) for their help with the cellulose extractions and measurements.

Author contribution statement

MAC and AK planned and designed the research. MAC, RAW and MCL performed chemical measurements. MAC analysed data. MAC, RAW and AK wrote the manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4338_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (JPEG 2042 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Systems ScienceETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Sciences-BotanyUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Geomorphology, Organic Surface Geochemistry LabPotsdamGermany
  5. 5.Department of Earth Sciences, Ocean Biogeochemistry GroupUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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