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Computational Chemistry Resolves a Key Step in the Detoxification of Toxic Mercury Compounds
Published: September 21, 2009
Posted: October 05, 2009

Organomercuric compounds such as methylmercury are highly toxic, often forming in mercury-contaminated environments. However these toxic compounds can be demethylated by a variety of naturally-occurring mercury resistant bacteria. The mechanism of a key step in the demethylation of methylmercury by a lyase enzyme known as MerB has now been revealed. A DOE-funded team led by Jerry M. Parks and Jeremy C. Smith of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with collaborating scientists at several universities, has applied quantum chemical calculations to x-ray structural data for the MerB enzyme to model the demethylation step. Using computationally demanding density functional calculations, the reaction pathways for this process were elucidated and the portions of the enzyme that play a critical role in the demethylation process were identified. These results provide a foundation for seeking additional mutant versions of the enzyme as part of a strategy for optimizing biological remediation of organomercury contamination in the environment. The research is published in the September 23, 2009, issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society

Contact: Susan Gregurick, SC-23.2, (301) 903-7672
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Subsurface Biogeochemical Research
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, Modeling

Division: SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


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