We report that the most abundant C-1 units of terrestrial plants, the methoxyl groups of pectin and lignin, have a unique carbon isotope signature exceptionally depleted in C-13. Plant-derived C-1 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also anomalously depleted in C-13 compared with Cn+1 VOCs. The results confirm that the plant methoxyl pool is the predominant source of biospheric C-1 compounds of plant origin such as methanol, chloromethane and bromomethane. Furthermore this pool, comprising ca 2.5% of carbon in plant biomass, could be an important substrate for methanogenesis and thus be envisaged as a possible source of isotopically light methane entering the atmosphere. Our findings have significant implications for the use of carbon isotope ratios in elucidation of global carbon cycling. Moreover methoxyl groups could act as markers for biological activity in organic matter of terrestrial and extraterrestrial origin.
- volatile organic compounds