Contrary effects of phytoplankton Chlorella vulgaris and its exudates on mercury methylation by iron- and sulfate-reducing bacteria

Xixiang Yin, Lihong Wang, Xujun Liang, Lijie Zhang, Jiating Zhao, Baohua Gu

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11 Scopus citations


Mercury (Hg) is a pervasive environmental pollutant and poses serious health concerns as inorganic Hg(II) can be converted to the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg), which bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in food webs. Phytoplankton, representing the base of aquatic food webs, can take up Hg(II) and influence MeHg production, but currently little is known about how and to what extent phytoplankton may impact Hg(II) methylation by itself or by methylating bacteria it harbors. This study investigated whether some species of phytoplankton could produce MeHg and how the live or dead phytoplankton cells and excreted algal organic matter (AOM) impact Hg(II) methylation by several known methylators, including iron-reducing bacteria (FeRB), Geobacter anodireducens SD-1 and Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA, and the sulfate-reducing bacterium (SRB) Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 (or Pseudodesulfovibrio mercurii). Our results indicate that, among the 4 phytoplankton species studied, none were capable of methylating Hg(II). However, the presence of phytoplankton cells (either live or dead) from Chlorella vulgaris (CV) generally inhibited Hg(II) methylation by FeRB but substantially enhanced methylation by SRB D. desulfuricans ND132. Enhanced methylation was attributed in part to CV-excreted AOM, which increased Hg(II) complexation and methylation by ND132 cells. In contrast, inhibition of methylation by FeRB was attributed to these bacteria incapable of competing with phytoplankton for Hg(II) binding and uptake. These observations suggest that phytoplankton could play different roles in affecting Hg(II) methylation by the two groups of anaerobic bacteria, FeRB and SRB, and thus shed additional light on how phytoplankton blooms may modulate MeHg production and bioaccumulation in the aquatic environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number128835
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Jul 5 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Algae Chlorella vulgaris
  • Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132
  • Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA
  • Methylmercury


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