Cellular Mercury Coordination Environment, and Not Cell Surface Ligands, Influence Bacterial Methylmercury Production

Sara A. Thomas, Bhoopesh Mishra, Satish C.B. Myneni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The conversion of inorganic mercury (Hg(II)) to methylmercury (MeHg) is central to the understanding of Hg toxicity in the environment. Hg methylation occurs in the cytosol of certain obligate anaerobic bacteria and archaea possessing the hgcAB gene cluster. However, the processes involved in Hg(II) biouptake and methylation are not well understood. Here, we examined the role of cell surface thiols, cellular ligands with the highest affinity for Hg(II) that are located at the interface between the outer membrane and external medium, on the sorption and methylation of Hg(II) by Geobacter sulfurreducens. The effect of added cysteine (Cys), which is known to greatly enhance Hg(II) biouptake and methylation, was also explored. By quantitatively blocking surface thiols with a thiol binding ligand (qBBr), we show that surface thiols have no significant effect on Hg(II) methylation, regardless of Cys addition. The results also identify a significant amount of cell-associated Hg-S3/S4 species, as studied by high energy-resolution X-ray absorption near edge structure (HR-XANES) spectroscopy, under conditions of high MeHg production (with Cys addition). In contrast, Hg-S2 are the predominant species during low MeHg production. Hg-S3/S4 species may be related to enhanced Hg(II) biouptake or the ability of Hg(II) to become methylated by HgcAB and should be further explored in this context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3960-3968
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 7 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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