A temperature responsive biopolymer for mercury remediation

Environ Sci Technol. 2003 Oct 1;37(19):4457-62. doi: 10.1021/es034210y.


Tunable biopolymers based on elastin-like polypeptides (ELP) were engineered for the selective removal of mercury. ELP undergoes a reversible thermal precipitation within a wide range of temperatures and was exploited to enable easy recovery of the sequestered mercury. A bacterial metalloregulatory protein, MerR, which binds mercury with an unusually high affinity and selectivity, was fused to the ELP to provide the highly selective nature of the biopolymers. Selective binding of mercury was demonstrated at an expected ratio of 0.5 mercury/biopolymer, and minimal binding of competing heavy metals (cadmium, nickel, and zinc), even at 100-fold excess, was observed. The sequestered mercury was extracted easily, enabling continuous reuse of the biopolymers. In repeating cycles, mercury concentration was reduced to ppb levels, satisfying even drinking water limits. Utility of the biopolymers with mercury-contaminated Lake Elsinore water was demonstrated with no decrease in efficiency. The nanoscale biopolymers reported here using metalloregulatory proteins represent a "green" technology for environmentally benign mercury removal. As nature offers a wide selection of specific metalloregulatory proteins, this technology offers promising solutions to remediation of other important pollutants such as arsenic or chromium.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry
  • Biopolymers
  • Chemical Precipitation
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Elastin
  • Mercury / chemistry
  • Mercury / isolation & purification*
  • Temperature
  • Water Pollutants / isolation & purification*
  • Water Purification / methods*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Biopolymers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • MerR protein, Bacteria
  • Water Pollutants
  • Elastin
  • Mercury