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Title: Microbial Oxidation of Hg(0) - Its Effect on Hg Stable Isotope Fractionation and Methylmercury Production

Mercury (Hg) associated with mixed waste generated by nuclear weapons manufacturing has contaminated vast areas of the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR). Neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg) has been formed from the inorganic Hg wastes discharged into headwaters of East Fork Poplar Creek (EFPC). Thus, understanding the processes and mechanisms that lead to Hg methylation along the flow path of EFPC is critical to predicting the impacts of the contamination and the design of remedial action at the ORR. In part I of our project, we investigated Hg(0) oxidation and methylation by anaerobic bacteria. We discovered that the anaerobic bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 can oxidize elemental mercury [Hg(0)]. When provided with dissolved elemental mercury, D. desulfuricans ND132 converts Hg(0) to Hg(II) and neurotoxic methylmercury [MeHg]. We also demonstrated that diverse species of subsurface bacteria oxidizes dissolved elemental mercury under anoxic conditions. The obligate anaerobic bacterium Geothrix fermentans H5, and the facultative anaerobic bacteria Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 and Cupriavidus metallidurans AE104 can oxidize Hg(0) to Hg(II) under anaerobic conditions. In part II of our project, we established anaerobic enrichment cultures and obtained new bacterial strains from the DOE Oak Ridge site. We isolated three new bacterial strains from subsurface sediments collected from Oak Ridge.more » These isolates are Bradyrhizobium sp. strain FRC01, Clostridium sp. strain FGH, and a novel Negativicutes strain RU4. Strain RU4 is a completely new genus and species of bacteria. We also demonstrated that syntrophic interactions between fermentative bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria in Oak Ridge saprolite mediate iron reduction via multiple mechanisms. Finally, we tested the impact of Hg on denitrification in nitrate reducing enrichment cultures derived from subsurface sediments from the Oak Ridge site, where nitrate is a major contaminant. We showed that there is an inverse relationship between Hg concentrations and rates of denitrification in enrichment cultures. In part III of our project, we examined in more detail the effects of microbial interactions on Hg transformations. We discovered that both sulfate reducing and iron reducing bacteria coexist in freshwater sediments and both microbial groups contribute to mercury methylation. We showed that mercury methylation by sulfate reducing and iron reducing bacteria are temporally and spatially separated processes. We also discovered that methanogens can methylate mercury. We showed that Methanospirillum hungatei JF-1 methylated Hg at comparable rates, but with higher yields, than those observed for sulfate-reducing bacteria and iron-reducing bacteria. Finally, we demonstrated that syntrophic interactions between different microbial groups increase mercury methylation rates. We showed that Hg methylation rates are stimulated via inter-species hydrogen and acetate transfer (i) from sulfate-reducing bacteria to methanogens and (ii) from fermenters to the sulfate-reducing bacteria. In part IV of the project, we studied Hg bioavailability and Hg isotope fractionation. We demonstrated that thiol-bound Hg is bioavailable to mercury resistant bacteria. We found that uptake of Hg from Hg-glutathione and Hg-cysteine complexes does not require functioning glutathione and cystine/cysteine transport systems. We demonstrated that a wide range of methylmercury complexes (e.g. MeHgOH, MeHg-cysteine, and MeHg-glutathione) are bioavailable to mercury resistant bacteria. The rate of MeHg demethylation varies more between different species of mercury resistant bacteria than among MeHg complexes. We showed that microbial demethylation of MeHg depends more on the species of microorganism than on the types and relative concentrations of thiols or other MeHg ligands present. Finally, we demonstrated that Hg methylation by Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA and Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 imparts mass-dependent discrimination against 202Hg relative to 198Hg. G. sulfurreducens PCA and D. desulfuricans ND132 have similar kinetic reactant/product Hg fractionation factors. Using the Hg isotope data, we showed that there are multiple intra- and/or extracellular pools provide substrate inorganic Hg for methylation.« less
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  1. Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ (United States)
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States