Microbial mercury methylation in Antarctic sea ice

Caitlin M. Gionfriddo, Michael T. Tate, Ryan R. Wick, Mark B. Schultz, Adam Zemla, Michael P. Thelen, Robyn Schofield, David P. Krabbenhoft, Kathryn E. Holt, John W. Moreau

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70 Citations (Scopus)


Atmospheric deposition of mercury onto sea ice and circumpolar sea water provides mercury for microbial methylation, and contributes to the bioaccumulation of the potent neurotoxin methylmercury in the marine food web. Little is known about the abiotic and biotic controls on microbial mercury methylation in polar marine systems. However, mercury methylation is known to occur alongside photochemical and microbial mercury reduction and subsequent volatilization. Here, we combine mercury speciation measurements of total and methylated mercury with metagenomic analysis of whole-community microbial DNA from Antarctic snow, brine, sea ice and sea water to elucidate potential microbially mediated mercury methylation and volatilization pathways in polar marine environments. Our results identify the marine microaerophilic bacterium Nitrospina as a potential mercury methylator within sea ice. Anaerobic bacteria known to methylate mercury were notably absent from sea-ice metagenomes. We propose that Antarctic sea ice can harbour a microbial source of methylmercury in the Southern Ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16127
Number of pages12
JournalNature Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

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