Microbial cycling of volatile organic sulfur compounds (VOSC) is investigated due to the impact these compounds are thought to have on environmental processes like global temperature control, acid precipitation and the global sulfur cycle. Moreover, in several kinds of industries like composting plants and the paper industry VOSC are released causing odor problems. Waste streams containing these compounds must be treated in order to avoid the release of these compounds to the atmosphere. This paper describes the general mechanisms for the production and degradation of methanethiol (MT) and dimethyl sulfide (DMS), two ubiquitous VOSC in anaerobic environments. Slurry incubations indicated that methylation of sulfide and MT resulting in MT and DMS, respectively, is one of the major mechanisms for VOSC in sulfide-rich anaerobic environments. An anaerobic bacterium that is responsible for the formation of MT and DMS through the anaerobic methylation of H2S and MT was isolated from a freshwater pond after enrichment with syringate as a methyl group donating compound and sole carbon source.

In spite of the continuous formation of MT and DMS, steady state concentrations are generally very low. This is due to the microbial degradation of these compounds. Experiments with sulfate-rich and sulfate-amended sediment slurries demonstrated that besides methanogens, sulfate-reducing bacteria can also degrade MT and DMS, provided that sulfate is available. A methanogen was isolated that is able to grow on DMS as the sole carbon source. A large survey of sediments slurries of various origin demonstrated that both isolates are commonly occurring inhabitants of anaerobic environments.

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