Hopane biomarker products were detected using microscale sealed vessel (MSSV) pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of dissolved organic matter from natural aquatic systems colonised by bacterial populations. MSSV pyrolysis can reduce the polyhydroxylated alkyl side chain of bacteriohopanepolyols, yielding saturated hopane products which are more amenable to GC-MS detection than their functionalised precursors. This example demonstrates how the thermal conditions of MSSV pyrolysis can reduce the biologically-inherited structural functionality of naturally occurring organic matter such that additional structural fragments can be detected using GC methods. This approach complements traditional analytical pyrolysis methods by providing additional speciation information useful for establishing the structures and source inputs of recent or extant organic material. (c) 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd.