Quantifying trace elements in individual aquatic protist cells with a synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microprobe

Benjamin S. Twining*, Stephen B. Baines, Nicholas S. Fisher, Jörg Maser, Stefan Vogt, Chris Jacobsen, Antonio Tovar-Sanchez, Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


The study of trace metal cycling by aquatic protists is limited by current analytical techniques. Standard "bulk" element analysis techniques that rely on physical separations to concentrate cells for analysis cannot separate cells from co-occurring detrital material or other cells of differing taxonomy or trophic function. Here we demonstrate the ability of a synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence (SXRF) microprobe to quantify the elements Si, Mn, Fe, Ni, and Zn in individual aquatic protist cells. This technique distinguishes between different types of cells in an assemblage and between cells and other particulate matter. Under typical operating conditions, the minimum detection limits are 7.0 × 10-16 mol μm-2 for Si and between 5.0 δ 10-20 and 3.9 δ 10-19 mol μm-2 for Mn, Fe, Ni, and Zn; this sensitivity is sufficient to detect these elements in cells from even the most pristine waters as demonstrated in phytoplankton cells collected from remote areas of the Southern Ocean. Replicate analyses of single cells produced variations of <5% for Si, Mn, Fe, and Zn and < 10% for Ni. Comparative analyses of cultured phytoplankton cells generally show no significant differences in cellular metal concentrations measured with SXRF and standard bulk techniques (spectrophotometry and graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry). SXRF also produces two-dimensional maps of element distributions in cells, thereby providing information not available with other analytical approaches. This technique enables the accurate and precise measurement of trace metals in individual aquatic protists collected from natural environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3806-3816
Number of pages11
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Quantifying trace elements in individual aquatic protist cells with a synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microprobe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this