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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1985 Aug;50(2):498-502.

Sulfate-reducing bacteria: principal methylators of mercury in anoxic estuarine sediment.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903.


Substrate-electron acceptor combinations and specific metabolic inhibitors were applied to anoxic saltmarsh sediment spiked with mercuric ions (Hg) in an effort to identify, by a direct approach, the microorganisms responsible for the synthesis of hazardous monomethylmercury. 2-Bromoethane sulfonate (30 mM), a specific inhibitor of methanogens, increased monomethylmercury synthesis, whereas sodium molybdate (20 mM), a specific inhibitor of sulfate reducers, decreased Hg methylation by more than 95%. Anaerobic enrichment and isolation procedures yielded a Desulfovibrio desulfuricans culture that vigorously methylated Hg in culture solution and also in samples of presterilized sediment. The Hg methylation activity of sulfate reducers is fully expressed only when sulfate is limiting and fermentable organic substrates are available. To date, sulfate reducers have not been suspected of Hg methylation. Identification of these bacteria as the principal methylators of Hg in anoxic sediments raises questions about the environmental relevance of previous pure culture-based methylation work.

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