Specimens of shrimp (Rimicaris exoculata) and mussel (Bathymodiolus puteoserpentis) were collected 3500 m below the ocean surface at the hydrothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic Ridge (TAG and Snake Pit sites, respectively). Arsenic, a potentially toxic element, is among the substances emitted by the hydrothermal vents. The hydrothermal vent shrimp, which are known to be a primary consumer of the primary producing chemolithoautotrophic bacteria, contained arsenic at 13 mu g g(-1) almost exclusively as arsenobetaine (AsB). Arsenic was present in the soft:issues of the mussel at 40 mu g g(-1) and the major part of the extractable arsenic species in the adductor muscle/mantle tissues and in the gill were present as dimethylarsinylriboside-derivatives (arsenosugrars), while AsB was present at 16 and 3.6%, respectively, in these tissues. In spite of the absence of biosynthetically active algae, the pattern of arsenic species found in the shrimp and mussel species in the deep-sea is similar to that found in their counterparts from the ocean surface. It is concluded that the autotrophic bacteria of the hydrothermal vent ecosystem and the symbiotic bacteria harboured in the mussel species are responsible for the biosynthesis of the organoarsenicals detected in the two hydrothermal vent animal species. It is not known if the formation of the same organoarsenicals in the surface and deep sea ecosystems is primarily a detoxification process of inorganic arsenic, or whether these compounds play a physiological role.