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Title: Modeling Mercury in Proteins

Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element that is released into the biosphere both by natural processes and anthropogenic activities. Although its reduced, elemental form Hg(0) is relatively non-toxic, other forms such as Hg2+ and, in particular, its methylated form, methylmercury, are toxic, with deleterious effects on both ecosystems and humans. Microorganisms play important roles in the transformation of mercury in the environment. Inorganic Hg2+ can be methylated by certain bacteria and archaea to form methylmercury. Conversely, bacteria also demethylate methylmercury and reduce Hg2+ to relatively inert Hg(0). Transformations and toxicity occur as a result of mercury interacting with various proteins. Clearly, then, understanding the toxic effects of mercury and its cycling in the environment requires characterization of these interactions. Computational approaches are ideally suited to studies of mercury in proteins because they can provide a detailed picture and circumvent issues associated with toxicity. Here we describe computational methods for investigating and characterizing how mercury binds to proteins, how inter- and intra-protein transfer of mercury is orchestrated in biological systems, and how chemical reactions in proteins transform the metal. We describe quantum chemical analyses of aqueous Hg(II), which reveal critical factors that determine ligand binding propensities. We then provide amore » perspective on how we used chemical reasoning to discover how microorganisms methylate mercury. We also highlight our combined computational and experimental studies of the proteins and enzymes of the mer operon, a suite of genes that confers mercury resistance in many bacteria. Lastly, we place work on mercury in proteins in the context of what is needed for a comprehensive multi-scale model of environmental mercury cycling.« less
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  1. ORNL
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Elsvier, Boston, MA, USA
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC)
Country of Publication:
United States