• Tracing Amino Acid Metabolism Of Harbor Seals (Phoca Vitulina) Using Stable Isotope Techniques

      Zhao, Liying; Schell, Donald M. (2002)
      Compound specific isotope techniques were used to trace amino acid metabolism in captive harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) through a two-year controlled feeding trial with either Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi ) or walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma). Techniques were developed for measuring carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of individual amino acids. Carbon and nitrogen trophic enrichments in serum of captive harbor seals varied with the two fish diets, which might have resulted from the changes in metabolic pathway due to the differing dietary protein intake between herring and pollock. Data on serum free amino acid compositions also showed, from a different perspective, that changes in seal metabolism occurred in response to these different feeding regimes. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of individual amino acids varied much more within an organism than across trophic levels, reflecting the distinct amino acid biosynthetic pathways. The similar patterns in relative amino acid carbon isotopic composition at different trophic levels indicated a conservative transfer of delta13C from primary producers to top predators. Nitrogen trophic enrichments in different amino acids were not uniform, depending upon the extent to which a given amino acid was transaminated or deaminated, with several essential amino acids showing lesser variations than most non-essential and branched-chain amino acids. The differences in amino acid isotope ratios among phocids from the North Pacific or Atlantic and their counterparts from the Antarctic reflected the geographic variations in isotopic composition of phytoplankton. The striking similarities in relative amino acid isotopic composition among phocids from the three distinct geographic locations indicated that phytoplankton worldwide had similar biosynthetic pathways during initial amino acid biosynthesis. This has important implications for using individual amino acid isotope ratios in studies of modern and prehistoric marine organisms. Amino acid metabolic pathways governed the varying patterns of 15N enrichments following 15N-labeled amino acid tracer infusions. Tracer experiments further confirmed that phenylalanine, threonine, lysine and probably histidine may be useful as relatively conservative natural biomarkers. This study provided new insight into mechanisms of isotopic trophic dynamics in food web studies and improved our understanding of seal protein metabolism.