From: University of East Anglia
Published February 13, 2017 06:00 PM

Marine bacteria produce an environmentally important molecule with links to climate

Scientists from the University of East Anglia and Ocean University China have discovered that tiny marine bacteria can synthesise one of the Earth’s most abundant sulfur molecules, which affects atmospheric chemistry and potentially climate.

This molecule, dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is an important nutrient for marine microorganisms and is the major precursor for the climate-cooling gas, dimethyl sulfide (DMS).

DMS, produced when microorganisms break down DMSP, is thought to have a role in regulating the climate by increasing cloud droplets that in turn reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the ocean’s surface. These same clouds are vital in the movement of large amounts of sulfur from oceans to land, making the production of DMSP and DMS a critical step in the global sulfur cycle.

It was previously widely thought that only eukaryotes – ‘higher’ organisms with complex cells, such as seaweeds and phytoplankton – produced DMSP. However, researchers have discovered that many marine bacteria also produce this sulfur compound, and have identified the key gene in the process.

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