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Fractionation of Mercury Stable Isotopes during Microbial Methylmercury Production by Iron- and Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria

Janssen, Sarah E., Schaefer, JeffraK., Barkay, Tamar, Reinfelder, John R.
Environmental Science & Technology 2016 v.50 no.15 pp. 8077-8083
Desulfovibrio desulfuricans, Geobacter sulfurreducens, anaerobes, aquatic food webs, biological production, fractionation, mercury, methylation, methylmercury compounds, sediments, soil, soil food webs, stable isotopes, sulfate-reducing bacteria
The biological production of monomethylmercury (MeHg) in soils and sediments is an important factor controlling mercury (Hg) accumulation in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. In this study we examined the fractionation of Hg stable isotopes during Hg methylation in nongrowing cultures of the anaerobic bacteria Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA and Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132. Both organisms showed mass-dependent, but no mass-independent fractionation of Hg stable isotopes during Hg methylation. Despite differences in methylation rates, the two bacteria had similar Hg fractionation factors (αᵣ/ₚ = 1.0009 and 1.0011, respectively). Unexpectedly, δ²⁰²Hg values of MeHg for both organisms were 0.4‰ higher than the value of initial inorganic Hg after about 35% of inorganic Hg had been methylated. These results indicate that a ²⁰²Hg-enriched pool of inorganic Hg was preferentially utilized as a substrate for methylation by these organisms, but that multiple intra- and/or extracellular pools supplied inorganic Hg for biological methylation. Understanding the controls of the Hg stable isotopic composition of microbially produced MeHg is important to identifying bioavailable Hg in natural systems and the interpretation of Hg stable isotopes in aquatic food webs.