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

Flushing advice is flawed

24 August 2015 Research

news image

Protocols to restore contaminated water supplies are not based on science

Simple chemistry saving thousands of gold miners from mercury poisoning

25 August 2015 News and Analysis

news image

Basic apparatus is cutting mercury pollution and helping Indonesian miners go for gold

Most Commented

New drug treatment for alcoholism shows promise in animal studies

24 August 2015 Research

news image

Compounds that target a receptor in the brain appear less addictive with fewer negative side-effects than existing drugs

A risky business

28 August 2015 In the Pipeline

news image

Graduate research is likely the most risky time of a chemist’s career, says Derek Lowe