Elemental sulfur (S(0)) is an important intermediate of the sulfur cycle and is generated by chemical and biological sulfide oxidation. Raman spectromicroscopy can be applied to environmental samples for the detection of S(0), as a practical non-destructive micron-scale method for use on wet material and living cells. Technical advances in filter materials enable the acquisition of ultra-low frequency (ULF) Raman measurements in the 10–100 cm−1 range using a single-stage spectrometer. Here we demonstrate the potency of ULF Raman spectromicroscopy to harness the external vibrational modes of previously unrecognized S(0) structures present in environmental samples. We investigate the chemical and structural nature of intracellular S(0) granules stored within environmental mats of sulfur-oxidizing γ-Proteobacteria (Thiothrix). In vivo intracellular ULF scans indicate the presence of amorphous cyclooctasulfur (S8), clarifying enduring uncertainties regarding the content of microbial sulfur storage globules. Raman scattering of extracellular sulfur clusters in Thiothrix mats furthermore reveals an unexpected abundance of metastable β-S8 and γ-S8, in addition to the stable α-S8 allotrope. We propose ULF Raman spectroscopy as a powerful method for the micron-scale determination of S(0) structure in natural and laboratory systems, with a promising potential to shine new light on environmental microbial and chemical sulfur cycling mechanisms.
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