The abundant marine bacterium Pelagibacter simultaneously catabolizes dimethylsulfoniopropionate to the gases dimethyl sulfide and methanethiol

Nat Microbiol. 2016 May 16;1(8):16065. doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.65.


Marine phytoplankton produce ∼10(9) tonnes of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) per year(1,2), an estimated 10% of which is catabolized by bacteria through the DMSP cleavage pathway to the climatically active gas dimethyl sulfide(3,4). SAR11 Alphaproteobacteria (order Pelagibacterales), the most abundant chemo-organotrophic bacteria in the oceans, have been shown to assimilate DMSP into biomass, thereby supplying this cell's unusual requirement for reduced sulfur(5,6). Here, we report that Pelagibacter HTCC1062 produces the gas methanethiol, and that a second DMSP catabolic pathway, mediated by a cupin-like DMSP lyase, DddK, simultaneously shunts as much as 59% of DMSP uptake to dimethyl sulfide production. We propose a model in which the allocation of DMSP between these pathways is kinetically controlled to release increasing amounts of dimethyl sulfide as the supply of DMSP exceeds cellular sulfur demands for biosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alphaproteobacteria / metabolism*
  • Aquatic Organisms / metabolism*
  • Gases / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism*
  • Sulfides / metabolism*
  • Sulfonium Compounds / metabolism*


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