As a major entry point of mercury (Hg) to aquatic food webs, algae play an important role in taking up and transforming Hg species in aquatic ecosystems. However, little is known how and to what extent Hg reduction, uptake, and species transformations are mediated by algal cells and their exudates, algal organic matter (AOM), under either sunlit or dark conditions. Here, using Chlorella vulgaris (CV) as one of the most prevalent freshwater model algal species, we show that solar irradiation could enhance the reduction of mercuric Hg(II) to elemental Hg(0) by both CV cells and AOM. AOM reduced more Hg(II) than algal cells themselves due to cell surface adsorption and uptake of Hg(II) inside the cells under solar irradiation. Synchrotron radiation X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (SR-XANES) analyses indicate that sunlight facilitated the transformation of Hg to less bioavailable species, such as β-HgS and Hg-phytochelatins, compared to Hg(Cysteine)2-like species formed in algal cells in the dark. These findings highlight important functional roles and potential mechanisms of algae in Hg reduction and immobilization under varying lighting conditions and how these processes may modulate Hg cycling and bioavailability in the aquatic environment.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- X-ray absorption