The relationships of Hg(II) volatilization from a freshwater pond to the abundance ofmer genes in the gene pool of the indigenous microbial community

Microb Ecol. 1991 Dec;21(1):151-61. doi: 10.1007/BF02539150.


The role of biological activities in the reduction and volatilization of Hg(II) from a polluted pond was investigated. Elemental mercury was evolved from pond water immediately following spiking with(203)Hg(NO3)2, whereas an acclimation period of 36 hours was required in control samples collected from a nearby, unpolluted river before onset of volatilization. Genes encoding the bacterial mercuric reductase enzyme (mer genes) were abundant in DNA fractions extracted from biomass of the pond microbial community, but not in samples extracted from control communities. Thus, evolution of Hg(0) was probably due to activities mediated by the bacterial mercuric reductase. Of four characterizedmer operons, the system encoded by transposon 501 (mer(Tn501)) dominated and likely contributed to the majority of the observed Hg(II) volatilization. Thus,mer-mediated reduction and volatilization could be used to reduce Hg(II) concentrations in polluted waters, in turn decreasing rates of methylmercury formation by limiting substrate availability.