Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is quantitatively the most important biogenic sulfur compound emitted from oceans and salt marshes. It is formed primarily by the action of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) lyase which cleaves DMSP, an algal osmolyte, to equimolar amounts of DMS and acrylate. This report is the first to describe the isolation and purification of DMSP lyase. The soluble enzyme was purified to electrophoretic homogeneity from a facultatively anaerobic gram-negative rod-shaped marine bacterium identified as an Alcaligenes species by the Vitek gram-negative identification method. The key to successful purification of the enzyme was its binding to, and hydrophobic chromatography on, a phenyl-Sepharose CL-4B column. DMSP lyase biosynthesis was induced by its substrate, DMSP; its product, acrylate; and also by acrylamide. The relative effectivenesses of the inducers were 100, 90, and 204%, respectively. DMSP lyase is a 48-kDa monomer with a Michaelis-Menten constant (K(infm)) for DMSP of 1.4 mM and a V(infmax) of 408 (mu)mol/min/mg of protein. It converted DMSP to DMS and acrylate stoichiometrically. The similar K(infm) values measured for pure DMSP lyase and the axenic culture, seawater, and surface marsh sediment suggest that the microbes in these ecosystems must have enzymes similar to the one purified from our marine isolate. Anoxic sediment populations, however, have a 40-fold-lower K(infm) for this enzyme (30 (mu)M), possibly giving them the capability to metabolize much lower levels of DMSP than the aerobes.