Effect of exogenous and endogenous sulfide on the production and the export of methylmercury by sulfate-reducing bacteria

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2022 Aug 12. doi: 10.1007/s11356-022-22173-y. Online ahead of print.


Mercury (Hg) is a global pollutant of environmental and health concern; its methylated form, methylmercury (MeHg), is a potent neurotoxin. Sulfur-containing molecules play a role in MeHg production by microorganisms. While sulfides are considered to limit Hg methylation, sulfate and cysteine were shown to favor this process. However, these two forms can be endogenously converted by microorganisms into sulfide. Here, we explore the effect of sulfide (produced by the cell or supplied exogenously) on Hg methylation. For this purpose, Pseudodesulfovibrio hydrargyri BerOc1 was cultivated in non-sulfidogenic conditions with addition of cysteine and sulfide as well as in sulfidogenic conditions. We report that Hg methylation depends on sulfide concentration in the culture and the sulfides produced by cysteine degradation or sulfate reduction could affect the Hg methylation pattern. Hg methylation was independent of hgcA expression. Interestingly, MeHg production was maximal at 0.1-0.5 mM of sulfides. Besides, a strong positive correlation between MeHg in the extracellular medium and the increase of sulfide concentrations was observed, suggesting a facilitated MeHg export with sulfide and/or higher desorption from the cell. We suggest that sulfides (exogenous or endogenous) play a key role in controlling mercury methylation and should be considered when investigating the impact of Hg in natural environments.

Keywords: Cysteine; Mercury; Mercury partitioning; Microbial mercury transformations; Sulfur-containing molecules; hgcA expression.