Anaerobic oxidation of Hg(0) and methylmercury formation by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132

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The transformation of inorganic mercury (Hg) to methylmercury (MeHg) plays a key role in determining the amount of Hg that is bioaccumulated in aquatic food chains. An accurate knowledge of Hg methylation mechanisms is required to predict the conditions that promote MeHg production in aquatic environments. In this study, we conducted experiments to examine the oxidation and methylation of dissolved elemental mercury [Hg(0)] by the anaerobic bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132. Anoxic cultures of D. desulfuricans ND132 were exposed to Hg(0) in the dark, and samples were collected and analyzed for the loss of Hg(0), formation of non-purgeable Hg, and formation of MeHg over time. We found that D. desulfuricans ND132 rapidly transformed dissolved gaseous mercury into non-purgeable Hg, with bacterial cultures producing approximately 40. μg/L of non-purgeable Hg within 30. min, and as much as 800. μg/L of non-purgeable Hg after 36. h. Derivatization of the non-purgeable Hg in the cell suspensions to diethylmercury and analysis of Hg(0)-reacted D. desulfuricans ND132 cells using X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy demonstrated that cell-associated Hg was dominantly in the oxidized Hg(II) form. Spectral comparisons and linear combination fitting of the XANES spectra indicated that the oxidized Hg(II) was covalently bonded to cellular thiol functional groups. MeHg analyses revealed that D. desulfuricans ND132 produced up to 118. μg/L of methylmercury after 36. h of incubation. We found that a significant fraction of the methylated Hg was exported out of the cell and released into the culture medium. The results of this work demonstrate a previously unrecognized pathway in the mercury cycle, whereby anaerobic bacteria produce MeHg when provided with dissolved Hg(0) as their sole Hg source. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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