Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Natural dissolved organic matter plays dual role in cycling of mercury

Nature has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with mercury, but researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have made a discovery that ultimately could help explain the split personality.

While scientists have known that microbes in aquatic environments make methylmercury, a more toxic form of mercury that accumulates in fish, they also know that nature and other types of bacteria can transform methylmercury to less toxic forms. What they haven't completely understood are the mechanisms that cause these transformations in anoxic environments - lacking in oxygen - in nature.

"Until now, reactions between elemental mercury and dissolved organic matter have rarely been studied in anoxic environments," said Baohua Gu of the the lab's Environmental Sciences Division.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Gu reports that compounds from the decay of organic matter in aquatic settings affect mercury cycling. Low concentrations of these compounds can chemically reduce mercury, but as those concentrations increase, that reaction is greatly inhibited. They performed their experiments by simulating conditions found in nature.

"This study demonstrates that in anoxic sediments and water, organic matter is not only capable of reducing mercury, but also binding to mercury," said co-author Liyuan Liang. "This binding could make mercury less available to microorganisms for making methylmercury."

The authors also noted that their paper offers a mechanism that helps explain the seemingly contradictory reports on the interaction of organic matter and mercury in nature.

Gu and Liang hope this newly gained knowledge will play a role in helping to understand how mercury cycles in aquatic and sediment environments and help in informed decision-making for mercury-impacted sites around the nation.

"Our long-term goal is to understand the mechanisms controlling the production of methylmercury in the environment, " Liang said. "This understanding could lead to ways to reduce levels of mercury in fish as this is a global problem of enormous significance."

Mercury is distributed around the globe mainly through the burning of coal, industrial uses and through natural processes such as volcano eruptions. Various forms of mercury are widely found in sediments and water.

This research benefits from ORNL's expertise in field-to-laboratory geochemistry and microbiology, computational modeling and simulation, world-class neutron sources and high-performance computing.

Other authors of the paper, "Mercury reduction and complexation by natural organic matter in anoxic environments," are Carrie Miller and Wenming Dong of ORNL and Yongrong Bian and Xin Jiang, visiting scientists from the Chinese Academy of Science.

This five-year mercury science focus area program (, begun in 2009, is funded by DOE's Office of Science.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE's Office of Science.

Ron Walli | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus
19.03.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one
19.03.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Development and Fast Analysis of 3D Printed HF Components

19.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>