Bacteria are important dimethylsulfoniopropionate producers in coastal sediments

Beth T. Williams, Kasha Cowles, Ana Bermejo Martinez, Andrew R. J. Curson, Yanfen Zheng, Jingli Liu, Simone Payne, Andrew J. Hind, Chun-Yang Li, Peter Rivera, Ornella Carrion, Ji Liu, Lewis G. Spurgin, Charles A. Brearley, Brett Wanger Mackenzie, Benjamin J. Pinchbeck, Ming Peng, Jennifer Pratscher, Xiao-Hua Zhang, Yu-Zhong ZhangJ. Colin Murrell, Jonathan D. Todd

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Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) and its catabolite dimethyl sulfide (DMS) are key marine nutrients, with roles in global sulfur cycling, atmospheric chemistry, signalling and, potentially, climate regulation. DMSP production was previously thought to be an oxic and photic process, mainly confined to the surface oceans. However, here we show that DMSP concentrations and DMSP/DMS synthesis rates were higher in surface marine sediment from e.g., saltmarsh ponds, estuaries and the deep ocean than in the overlying seawater. A quarter of bacterial strains isolated from saltmarsh sediment produced DMSP (up to 73 mM), and previously unknown DMSP-producers were identified. Most DMSP-producing isolates contained dsyB, but some alphaproteobacteria, gammaproteobacteria and actinobacteria utilised a methionine methylation pathway independent of DsyB, previously only associated with higher plants. These bacteria contained a methionine methyltransferase ‘mmtN’ gene - a marker for bacterial DMSP synthesis via this pathway. DMSP-producing bacteria and their dsyB and/or mmtN transcripts were present in all tested seawater samples and Tara Oceans bacterioplankton datasets, but were far more abundant in marine surface sediment. Approximately 108 bacteria per gram of surface marine sediment are predicted to produce DMSP, and their contribution to this process should be included in future models of global DMSP production. We propose that coastal and marine sediments, which cover a large part of the Earth’s surface, are environments with high DMSP and DMS productivity, and that bacteria are important producers within them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1815-1825
Number of pages11
JournalNature Microbiology
Early online date19 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • DMSP
  • bacteria
  • marine
  • salt marsh microbiology
  • Biogeochemical cycling

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