Microbial mercury transformation in anoxic freshwater sediments under iron-reducing and other electron-accepting conditions

Environ Sci Technol. 2003 May 15;37(10):2159-65. doi: 10.1021/es0262939.


Potential rates of microbial methylation of inorganic mercury (added as HgCl2) and degradation of methyl mercury (MeHg) (added as CH3HgCl) were investigated in anoxic sediments from the Mobile Alabama River Basin (MARB) dominated by different terminal electron-accepting processes (TEAPs). Potential rates of methylation were comparable under methanogenic and sulfate-reducing conditions but suppressed under iron-reducing conditions, in slurries of freshwater wetland sediment In contrast, MeHg degradation rates were similar under all three TEAPs. Microbial Hg methylation and MeHg degradation were also investigated in surface sediment from three riverine sites, two of which had iron reduction and one sulfate reduction, as the dominant TEAP (as determined by 14C-acetate metabolism and other biogeochemical measurements). Methylation was active in sulfate-reducing sediments of a tributary creek and suppressed in iron-reducing, sandy sediments from the open river, whereas MeHg degradation was active at all three sites. Although iron-reducing conditions often suppressed methylation, some methylation activity was observed in two out of three replicates from iron-reducing sediments collected near a dam. Given that MeHg degradation was consistently observed under all TEAPs, our results suggest that the net flux of MeHg from iron-reducing surface sediments may be suppressed (due to inhibition of gross MeHg production) compared to sediments supporting other TEAPs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Euryarchaeota / growth & development*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Iron / chemistry*
  • Mercuric Chloride / chemistry
  • Mercury / chemistry*
  • Methylation
  • Methylmercury Compounds / chemistry
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfur-Reducing Bacteria / growth & development*


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mercuric Chloride
  • Iron
  • Mercury
  • methylmercuric chloride