Phytoplankton-bacteria interactions drive the surface ocean sulfur cycle and local climatic processes through the production and exchange of a key compound: dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). Despite their large-scale implications, these interactions remain unquantified at the cellular-scale. Here we use secondary-ion mass spectrometry to provide the first visualization of DMSP at sub-cellular levels, tracking the fate of a stable sulfur isotope (34S) from its incorporation by microalgae as inorganic sulfate to its biosynthesis and exudation as DMSP, and finally its uptake and degradation by bacteria. Our results identify for the first time the storage locations of DMSP in microalgae, with high enrichments present in vacuoles, cytoplasm and chloroplasts. In addition, we quantify DMSP incorporation at the single-cell level, with DMSPdegrading bacteria containing seven times more 34S than the control strain. This study provides an unprecedented methodology to label, retain, and image small diffusible molecules, which can be transposable to other symbiotic systems.
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