Molecular dynamics simulations support the hypothesis that the brGDGT paleothermometer is based on homeoviscous adaptation

B D A Naafs*, Ana Sofia F Oliveira, Adrian J Mulholland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (brGDGTs) are bacterial membrane lipids that are ubiquitous in the environment. Although the exact source mechanism is unknown, the distribution of brGDGTs in mineral soils, peats, and lake sediments is correlated with temperature through a decrease in the degree of methylation with increasing temperature. This empirical observation forms the basis of the brGDGT paleothermometer, one of the most important and widely used organic proxies to reconstruct terrestrial temperatures in the past. However, a mechanistic understanding to underpin this empirical correlation between the degree of methylation of brGDGT lipids and temperature is lacking, hindering a holistic understanding of the brGDGT paleothermometer as well as the membrane dynamics of their bacterial producers. Toaddress this, here we present the first molecular dynamics simulations of membranes consisting of brGDGTs. Using intact polar lipid (IPL) brGDGTs with two sugar headgroups, our simulations demonstrate that increasing the degree of methylation modulates membrane order and packing, rendering the membrane less rigid and more fluid. These results indicate that the empirically observed correlation between the degree of methylation and temperature allows brGDGT-producing bacteria to maintain
adequate membrane fluidity. Our simulations provide the first molecular simulation data to support the hypothesis that the brGDGT paleothermometer is based on homeoviscous adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Jul 2021

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