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Intact polar membrane lipids (IPLs) are the building blocks of all cell membranes. There is a wide range of phosphorus-free IPL structures, including amino acid containing IPLs, that can be taxonomically specific. Trimethylornithine membrane lipids (TMOs) were discovered in northern wetland Planctomycete species that were isolated and described in the last decade. The trimethylated terminal nitrogen moiety of the ornithine amino acid in the TMO structure gives the lipid a charged polar head group, similar to certain phospholipids. Since their discovery, TMOs have been identified in various other recently described northern latitude Planctomycete species, and in diverse environments including tundra soil, a boreal eutrophic lake, meso-oligotrophic lakes, and hot springs. The majority of environments or enrichment cultures in which TMOs have been observed include predominately heterotrophic microbial communities involved in the degradation of recalcitrant material and/or low oxygen methanogenic conditions at primarily northern latitudes. Other ecosystems occupied with microbial communities that possess similar metabolic pathways, such as tropical peatlands or coastal salt marshes, may include TMO producing Planctomycetes as well, further allowing these lipids to potentially be used to understand microbial community responses to environmental change in a wide range of systems. The occurrence of TMOs in hot springs indicates that these unique lipids could have broad environmental distribution with different specialized functions. Opportunities also exist to investigate the application of TMOs in microbiome studies, including forensic necrobiomes. Further environmental and microbiome lipidomics research involving TMOs will help reveal the evolution, functions, and applications of these unique membrane lipids.


Article Processing Charges making this article Open Access were supported by the 2020-21 Rowan University Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.