U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


New Roles for Microbes in the Mercury/Methyl Mercury Cycle
Published: November 22, 2010
Posted: January 06, 2011

Mercury is a global pollutant released into the atmosphere during coal burning and into freshwater systems froma agricultural runoff and industrial discharge. Once in freshwater systems, microorganisms, known as d-proteobacteria, create methylmercury (MeHg), a highly toxic form of mercury that accumulates in biological systems. High concentrations of MeHg are detected in biota in the East Fork Poplar Creek in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, even though mercury producing weapons production activities at the Y-12 National Security complex were discontinued many years ago. Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists recently characterized the impacts of mercury and uranium contamination on the diversity and structure of bacterial populations from the East Fork Poplar Creek and other nearby streams. The team sampled 6 different streams at select times over a year and demonstrated that specific microbial groupings (Verrucomicrobia and e-proteobacteria groupings) were most closely correlated with high MeHg levels, even though no bacteria in these groupings are known to have any role in MeHg generation. This is the first study to indicate an influence of MeHg on an existing microbial community, and suggests that bacteria within the Verrucomicrobia and the e-proteobacteria groupings have an important, but yet to be determined role in the overall Hg/MeHg cycle.

Reference: Vishnivetskaya T. A., J.J. Mosher, A. V. Palumbo, Z. K. Yang, M. Podar, S. D. Brown, S.C. Brooks, B. Gu, G. R. Southworth, M. M. Drake, C. C. Brandt, and D. A. Elias. 2010. "Mercury and Other Heavy Metals Influence Bacterial Community Structure in Contaminated Tennessee Streams," Applied and Environmental Microbiology, published online ahead of print on 5 November 2010, doi:10.1128/AEM.01715-10.

Contact: Paul E. Bayer, SC-23.1, (301) 903-5324
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Subsurface Biogeochemical Research
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)