Mercury Uptake by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132: Passive or Active?

Jing An, Lijie Zhang, Xia Lu, Dale A. Pelletier, Eric M. Pierce, Alexander Johs, Jerry M. Parks, Baohua Gu

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30 Scopus citations


Recent studies have identified HgcAB proteins as being responsible for mercury [Hg(II)] methylation by certain anaerobic microorganisms. However, it remains controversial whether microbes take up Hg(II) passively or actively. Here, we examine the dynamics of concurrent Hg(II) adsorption, uptake, and methylation by both viable and inactivated cells (heat-killed or starved) or spheroplasts of the sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans ND132 in laboratory incubations. We show that, without addition of thiols, >60% of the added Hg(II) (25 nM) was taken up passively in 48 h by live and inactivated cells and also by cells treated with the proton gradient uncoupler, carbonylcyanide-3-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP). Inactivation abolished Hg(II) methylation, but the cells continued taking up Hg(II), likely through competitive binding or ligand exchange of Hg(II) by intracellular proteins or thiol-containing cellular components. Similarly, treatment with CCCP impaired the ability of spheroplasts to methylate Hg(II) but did not stop Hg(II) uptake. Spheroplasts showed a greater capacity to adsorb Hg(II) than whole cells, and the level of cytoplasmic membrane-bound Hg(II) correlated well with MeHg production, as Hg(II) methylation is associated with cytoplasmic HgcAB. Our results indicate that active metabolism is not required for cellular Hg(II) uptake, thereby providing an improved understanding of Hg(II) bioavailability for methylation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6264-6272
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 4 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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