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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Expression Levels of hgcAB Genes and Mercury Availability Jointly Explain Methylmercury Formation in Stratified Brackish Waters

Capo, Eric; Feng, Caiyan; Bravo, Andrea G.; Bertilsson, Stefan; Soerensen, Anne L.; Pinhassi, Jarone; Buck, Moritz; Karlsson, Camilla; Hawkes, Jeffrey; Bjorn, Erik


Neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg) is formed by microbial methylation of inorganic divalent Hg (Hg-II) and constitutes severe environmental and human health risks. The methylation is enabled by hgcA and hgcB genes, but it is not know nif the associated molecular-level processes are rate-limiting or enable accurate prediction of MeHg formation in nature. In this study, we investigated the relationships between hgc genes and MeHg across redox-stratified water columns in the brackish Baltic Sea. We showed, for the first time, that hgc transcript abundance and the concentration of dissolved Hg-II-sulfide species were strong predictors of both the Hg-II methylation rate and MeHg concentration, implying their roles as principal joint drivers of MeHg formation in these systems. Additionally, we characterized the metabolic capacities of hgc(+) microorganisms by reconstructing their genomes from metagenomes (i.e., hgc(+) MAGs), which highlighted the versatility of putative Hg-II methylators in the water column of the Baltic Sea. In establishing relationships between hgc transcripts and the Hg-II methylation rate, we advance the fundamental understanding of mechanistic principles governing MeHg formation in nature and enable refined predictions of MeHg levels in coastal seas in response to the accelerating spread of oxygen-deficientzones.


mercury; methylmercury; mercury chemical speciation; hgcAB genes; hgcAB transcripts; metagenomics; metatranscriptomics; Baltic Sea

Published in

Environmental Science and Technology
2022, Volume: 56, number: 18, pages: 13119-13130 Publisher: AMER CHEMICAL SOC