Biosynthesis of methylmercury discovered


 

While we all know mercury is poisonous it is methylmercury, the organic form, that bioaccumulates in food webs and is highly toxic. It's been acknowledged for years that methylmercury is produced by microorganisms far down the food chain, but what has not been known is how they do it. US-based researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have now identified the genes, and hence the proteins, involved in mercury methylation and suggest that the pathway is common for all mercury methylating microorganisms.

Using gene deletion, Jerry Parks' team showed that two genes are key components of bacterial mercury methylation, relating to a corrinoid protein that acts as a methyl carrier and a ferredoxin protein that reduces the corrinoid protein's cofactor. What is still not apparent, however, is why these bacteria have evolved to methylate mercury at all.


Related Content

Chemistry World podcast - July 2013

1 July 2013 Podcast | Monthly

news image

Hagan Bayley explains the scientific scope for 3D printing and Chad Mirkin introduces programmable DNA building blocks

Chemistry World podcast - March 2013

13 March 2013 Podcast | Monthly

news image

Mark Mascal talks about bio-derived chemicals, John Lindon introduces the Phenome Centre and the team cover the latest news

Most Read

Breakup reaction hints at handedness of nature

25 September 2014 Research

news image

Dissociation of 3-bromocamphor provides clues on why nature favours one mirror image of a molecule over another

Perovskite solar cells show hydrogen production promise

26 September 2014 Research

news image

Highly efficient solar cells and catalysts made from cheap, common materials use sunlight to split water

Most Commented

Viruses melt ‘glassy’ DNA

1 October 2014 Research

news image

Researchers have shown how viruses liquefy their own DNA ready to inject into host cells

Perovskite solar cells show hydrogen production promise

26 September 2014 Research

news image

Highly efficient solar cells and catalysts made from cheap, common materials use sunlight to split water