What is it about?

In aquatic environments, inorganic mercury (Hg) is transformed to methylmercury (MeHg) by heterotrophic bacteria in sediment or in biofilms associated with various particles. Then MeHg can accumulate along the food chain. We found that gut microbiome of small animals has bacteria that are potentially capable of MeHg production.

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Why is it important?

Our findings suggest a possibility that production of MeHg by microbiome may occur in zooplankton and other aquatic animals, which is an unaccounted source of MeHg in the environment. If this is the case, quantifying this source may help explaining great variability of this highly toxic environmental contaminant in the water and food webs, including fish and invertebrates used for human consumption.


Additional molecular and metagenomics studies are needed to identify bacteria capable of MeHg production and improve our ability to quantify and evaluate their functionality in microbiome of aquatic (and, perhaps, terrestrial) animals.

Elena Gorokhova
Stockholm University

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This page is a summary of: Mercury-methylating bacteria are associated with copepods: A proof-of-principle survey in the Baltic Sea, PLoS ONE, March 2020, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230310.
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