Environmental VOSCs--formation and degradation of dimethyl sulfide, methanethiol and related materials

Chemosphere. 2004 Apr;55(3):291-317. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2003.12.017.


Volatile organic sulfur compounds (VOSCs) play a major role in the global sulfur cycle. Two components, dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and methanethiol (MT) are formed in large amounts by living systems (e.g. algae, bacteria, plants), particularly in marine environments. A major route to DMS is by action of a lyase enzyme on dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). DMSP has other roles, for instance as an osmoprotectant and cryoprotectant. Demethiolation of DMSP and other materials leads to MT. A major transport process is release of DMS from the oceans to the atmosphere. Oxidation of DMS in the atmosphere by hydroxyl and nitrate radicals produces many degradation products including CO2, COS, dimethyl sulfoxide, dimethyl sulfone, organic oxyacids of sulfur, and sulfate. These materials also have roles in biotic processes and there are complex metabolic interrelationships between some of them. This review emphasizes the chemical reactions of the organic sulfur cycle. For biotic reactions, details of relevant enzymes are provided when possible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Sulfides / chemistry*
  • Sulfonium Compounds / metabolism*
  • Sulfur Compounds*


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Sulfides
  • Sulfonium Compounds
  • Sulfur Compounds
  • methylmercaptan
  • dimethylpropiothetin
  • dimethyl sulfide