Limnology and Oceanography ( 2022)
Metabolites, or the small organic molecules that are synthesized by cells during metabolism, comprise a complex and dynamic pool of carbon in the ocean. They are an essential currency in interactions at the population and community levels of biological organization. Characterizing metabolite distributions inside microbial cells and dissolved in seawater is essential to understanding the controls on their production and fate, as well as their roles in shaping marine microbial food webs. Here, we apply a targeted metabolomics method to quantify particulate and dissolved distributions of a suite of biologically relevant metabolites including vitamins, amino acids, nucleic acids, osmolytes, and intermediates in biosynthetic pathways along a latitudinal transect in the western Atlantic Ocean. We find that, in the upper 200 m of the water column, most particulate or intracellular metabolites positively covary with the most abundant microbial taxa. In contrast, dissolved metabolites exhibited greater variability with differences in distribution between ocean regions. Although fewer particulate metabolites were detected below 200 m, the particulate metabolites identified in the deep ocean may be linked to adaptive physiological strategies of deep‐sea microbes. Based on the identified metabolite distributions, we propose relationships between certain metabolites and microbial populations, and find that dissolved metabolite distributions are not directly related to their particulate abundances.