Northern peatlands represent a significant global carbon store and commonly originate from Sphagnum moss-dominated wetlands. These ombrotrophic ecosystems are rain fed, resulting in nutrient-poor, acidic conditions. Members of the bacterial phylum Planctomycetes are highly abundant and appear to play an important role in the decomposition of Sphagnum-derived litter in these ecosystems. High-performance liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution accurate-mass mass spectrometry (HPLC-HRAM/MS) analysis of lipid extracts of four isolated planctomycetes from wetlands of European north Russia revealed novel ornithine membrane lipids (OLs) that are mono-, di-, and trimethylated at the ε-nitrogen position of the ornithine head group. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis of the isolated trimethylornithine lipid confirmed the structural identification. Similar fatty acid distributions between mono-, di-, and trimethylornithine lipids suggest that the three lipid classes are biosynthetically linked, as in the sequential methylation of the terminal nitrogen in phosphatidylethanolamine to produce phosphatidylcholine. The mono-, di-, and trimethylornithine lipids described here represent the first report of methylation of the ornithine head groups in biological membranes. Various bacteria are known to produce OLs under phosphorus limitation or fatty-acid-hydroxylated OLs under thermal or acid stress. The sequential methylation of OLs, leading to a charged choline-like moiety in the trimethylornithine lipid head group, may be an adaptation to provide membrane stability under acidic conditions without the use of scarce phosphate in nutrient-poor ombrotrophic wetlands
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