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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jun;77(12):3938-51. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02993-10. Epub 2011 Apr 22.

Sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 as a model for understanding bacterial mercury methylation.

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  • 1Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, 647 Contees Wharf Rd., Edgewater, MD 21037, USA.


We propose the use of Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 as a model species for understanding the mechanism of microbial Hg methylation. Strain ND132 is an anaerobic dissimilatory sulfate-reducing bacterium (DSRB), isolated from estuarine mid-Chesapeake Bay sediments. It was chosen for study because of its exceptionally high rates of Hg methylation in culture and its metabolic similarity to the lost strain D. desulfuricans LS, the only organism for which methylation pathways have been partially defined. Strain ND132 is an incomplete oxidizer of short-chain fatty acids. It is capable of respiratory growth using fumarate as an electron acceptor, supporting growth without sulfide production. We used enriched stable Hg isotopes to show that ND132 simultaneously produces and degrades methylmercury (MeHg) during growth but does not produce elemental Hg. MeHg produced by cells is mainly excreted, and no MeHg is produced in spent medium. Mass balances for Hg and MeHg during the growth of cultures, including the distribution between filterable and particulate phases, illustrate how medium chemistry and growth phase dramatically affect Hg solubility and availability for methylation. The available information on Hg methylation among strains in the genus Desulfovibrio is summarized, and we present methylation rates for several previously untested species. About 50% of Desulfovibrio strains tested to date have the ability to produce MeHg. Importantly, the ability to produce MeHg is constitutive and does not confer Hg resistance. A 16S rRNA-based alignment of the genus Desulfovibrio allows the very preliminary assessment that there may be some evolutionary basis for the ability to produce MeHg within this genus.

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