The photooxidation processes of tryptophan (Trp) in the presence of dissolved organic matter (DOM) were identified and quantified by steady-state photolysis experiments, laser spectroscopy and kinetic modeling. In sunlight, Trp photooxidation is dominated by the reaction with excited triplet DOM ((3)DOM), accounting for approximately 50-70% of the total degradation, depending on the DOM concentration and source. Reaction with singlet oxygen and direct photolysis are secondary processes that are both still more important than the reaction with hydroxyl radical. Both direct photolysis and reaction with (3)DOM form Trp radical cation (Trp(•+)) via Trp photoionization and direct oxidation, respectively. The Trp(•+) can be converted back to Trp by suitable electron or hydrogen atom donors. Transient absorption spectroscopy shows that DOM itself and low-molecular-weight analogues of redox-active moieties can reduce the lifetime of photochemically produced Trp(•+) and thus quench Trp degradation. This study demonstrates that DOM plays dual roles in the photodegradation of Trp acting as a sensitizer and quencher. The photochemistry of Trp and the participation of DOM have direct implications for photochemical reactions in extracellular proteins as well as for organic compounds in aquatic systems with similar photoionization processes.
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