The symbiotic association between the roseobacter Silicibacter sp. strain TM1040 and the dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida involves bacterial chemotaxis to dinoflagellate-produced dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), DMSP demethylation, and ultimately a biofilm on the surface of the host. Biofilm formation is coincident with the production of an antibiotic and a yellow-brown pigment. In this report, we demonstrate that the antibiotic is a sulfur-containing compound, tropodithietic acid (TDA). Using random transposon insertion mutagenesis, 12 genes were identified as critical for TDA biosynthesis by the bacteria, and mutation in any one of these results in a loss of antibiotic activity (Tda(-)) and pigment production. Unexpectedly, six of the genes, referred to as tdaA-F, could not be found on the annotated TM1040 genome and were instead located on a previously unidentified plasmid (ca. 130 kb; pSTM3) that exhibited a low frequency of spontaneous loss. Homologs of tdaA and tdaB from Silicibacter sp. strain TM1040 were identified by mutagenesis in another TDA-producing roseobacter, Phaeobacter sp. strain 27-4, which also possesses two large plasmids (ca. 60 and ca. 70 kb, respectively), and tda genes were found by DNA-DNA hybridization in 88% of a diverse collection of nine roseobacters with known antibiotic activity. These data suggest that roseobacters may use a common pathway for TDA biosynthesis that involves plasmid-encoded proteins. Using metagenomic library databases and a bioinformatics approach, differences in the biogeographical distribution between the critical TDA synthesis genes were observed. The implications of these results to roseobacter survival and the interaction between TM1040 and its dinoflagellate host are discussed.