Mercury Sorption and Desorption on Organo-Mineral Particulates as a Source for Microbial Methylation

Lijie Zhang, Shan Wu, Linduo Zhao, Xia Lu, Eric M. Pierce, Baohua Gu

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49 Scopus citations


In natural freshwater and sediments, mercuric mercury (Hg(II)) is largely associated with particulate minerals and organics, but it remains unclear under what conditions particulates may become a sink or a source for Hg(II) and whether the particulate-bound Hg(II) is bioavailable for microbial uptake and methylation. In this study, we investigated Hg(II) sorption-desorption characteristics on three organo-coated hematite particulates and a Hg-contaminated natural sediment and evaluated the potential of particulate-bound Hg(II) for microbial methylation. Mercury rapidly sorbed onto particulates, especially the cysteine-coated hematite and sediment, with little desorption observed (0.1-4%). However, the presence of Hg-binding ligands, such as low-molecular-weight thiols and humic acids, resulted in up to 60% of Hg(II) desorption from the Hg-laden hematite particulates but <6% from the sediment. Importantly, the particulate-bound Hg(II) was bioavailable for uptake and methylation by a sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 under anaerobic incubations, and the methylation rate was 4-10 times higher than the desorption rate of Hg(II). These observations suggest direct contacts and interactions between bacterial cells and the particulate-bound Hg(II), resulting in rapid exchange or uptake of Hg(II) by the bacteria. The results highlight the importance of Hg(II) partitioning at particulate-water interfaces and the role of particulates as a significant source of Hg(II) for methylation in the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2426-2433
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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