Soil humic substances (HS) are heterologous, polydispersive, and multi-functional organometallic macromolecules ubiquitous in soils and sediments. They are key players in the maintenance of the belowground ecosystems and in the bioavailability of both organic and inorganic contaminants. It is widely assumed that the peptidic substructures of HS are readily degraded and therefore do not contribute significantly to interactions with contaminants such as toxic metals. To investigate the turnover of humified peptides, laboratory soil aging experiments were conducted with 13C-glucose or 15N-nitrate for 8.5 months. Evidence for random-coil peptidic structures in the labeled HS was obtained from 2-D nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (pyro-GC-MS), and circular dichroism data. Interaction of metals with the peptidic carbonyls of labeled HS was rationalized from the solid-state NMR data. Detailed 13C and 15N labeling patterns of amino acid residues in the acid hydrolysates of HS acquired from NMR and GC-MS revealed two pools of peptides, i.e. one extant (unlabeled) and the other, newly humified with little isotopic scrambling (fully labeled). The persistence of pre-existing peptidic structures indicates their resistance to degradation while the presence of fully labeled peptidic amino acids suggests wholesale incorporation of newly synthesized peptides into HS. These findings are contrary to the general notion that humified peptides are readily degraded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-264
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Peptide Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • 2-D nuclear magnetic resonance
  • C and N labeling
  • Circular dichroism
  • Humified peptides
  • Pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology


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