Detection of the merA gene and its expression in the environment

Microb Ecol. 1996 Nov;32(3):293-303. doi: 10.1007/BF00183064.


Bacterial transformation of mercury in the environment has received much attention owing to the toxicity of both the ionic form and organomercurial compounds. Bacterial resistance to mercury and the role of bacteria in mercury cycling have been widely studied. The genes specifying the required functions for resistance to mercury are organized on the mer operon. Gene probing methodologies have been used for several years to detect specific gene sequences in the environment that are homologous to cloned mer genes. While mer genes have been detected in a wide variety of environments, less is known about the expression of these genes under environmental conditions. We combined new methodologies for recovering specific gene mRNA transcripts and mercury detection with a previously described method for determining biological potential for mercury volatilization to examine the effect of mercury concentrations and nutrient availability on rates of mercury volatilization and merA transcription. Levels of merA-specific transcripts and Hg(II) volatilization were influenced more by microbial activity (as manipulated by nutrient additions) than by the concentration of total mercury. The detection of merA-specific transcripts in some samples that did not reduce Hg(II) suggests that rates of mercury volatilization in the environment may not always be proportional to merA transcription.