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Microbial degradation of dimethylsulfoxide in the marine environment


Microbial degradation of dimethylsulfoxide in the marine environment. NERC (2014-2017)

Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) is a chemical with a wide range of applications. It is a widely used solvent, for instance in pharmaceutical applications, and a waste product of the paper milling industry. It also occurs naturally in a range of fruits, like raspberries, and vegetables. However, DMSO is also a compound that is part of the natural sulphur cycle. Sulphur is an essential element for all life, and in its organic form is a component of all proteins such as the amino acids cysteine and methionine. DMSO is an organic sulphur compound found everywhere in our oceans, and is produced by a number of natural biological and chemical processes. DMSO is important because it is both a source and a sink for a climate-cooling gas called dimethyl sulfide (DMS). DMS is a component of the smell of the seaside. Around 300 million tons of DMS are made each year by marine microorganisms. Some of this DMS is released into the atmosphere above the oceans, where it reacts in air to compounds that seed clouds, which is suggested influences weather and climate. When it rains, sulphur compounds are deposited back into the soils of our continents. However the majority of the DMS formed in the oceans is thought not to be released to the atmosphere, but rather to be converted to DMSO, and thus stays in seawater. However what happens to this DMSO largely remains a mystery which will be characterized in this project.

Postdoctoral research fellow: Dr Jason Stephenson.

Principle investigator: Dr Hendrik Schafer, Co-investigator: Dr Yin Chen

project collaborators: Dr Joanna Dixon (Plymouth Marine Laboratory); Dr Frances Hopkins (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)