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Title: Global prevalence and distribution of genes and microorganisms involved in mercury methylation

Mercury methylation produces the neurotoxic, highly bioaccumulative methylmercury (MeHg). Recent identification of the methylation genes (hgcAB) provides the foundation for broadly evaluating microbial Hg-methylation potential in nature without making explicit rate measurements. We first queried hgcAB diversity and distribution in all available microbial metagenomes, encompassing most environments. The genes were found in nearly all anaerobic, but not in aerobic, environments including oxygenated layers of the open ocean. Critically, hgcAB was effectively absent in ~1500 human microbiomes, suggesting a low risk of endogenous MeHg production. New potential methylation habitats were identified, including invertebrate guts, thawing permafrost, coastal dead zones, soils, sediments, and extreme environments, suggesting multiple routes for MeHg entry into food webs. Several new taxonomic groups potentially capable of Hg-methylation emerged, including lineages having no cultured representatives. We then begin to address long-standing evolutionary questions about Hg-methylation and ancient carbon fixation mechanisms while generating a new global view of Hg-methylation potential.
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [1] ;  [2] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [3] ;  [1]
  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  2. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD (United States)
  3. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States); Texas A&M Univ., Overton, TX (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Science Advances
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 1; Journal Issue: 9; Journal ID: ISSN 2375-2548
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC)
Country of Publication:
United States
59 BASIC BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES; mercury; mercury SFA; methylmercury; Hg; MeHg
OSTI Identifier: