Thiol-Based Selective Extraction Assay to Comparatively Assess Bioavailable Mercury in Sediments.
Bioaccumulation of methylmercury in the aquatic food web is governed in part by the methylation of inorganic divalent mercury (Hg(II)) by anaerobic microorganisms. In sulfidic settings, a small fraction of total Hg(II) is typically bioavailable to methylating microorganisms. Quantification of this fraction is difficult due to uncertainties in the speciation of Hg(II) and the mechanisms of uptake by methylating microbes. However, recent studies have shown that the bioavailable fraction is likely to include a portion of Hg(II) associated with solid phases, that is, nanostructured mercuric sulfides. Moreover, addition of thiols to suspensions of methylating cultures coincides with increased uptake into cells and methylmercury production. Here, we present a thiol-based selective extraction assay to provide information on the bioavailable Hg fraction in sediments. In the procedure, sediment samples were exposed to a nitrogen-purged solution of glutathione (GSH) for 30 min and the amount of GSH-leachable mercury was quantified. In nine sediment samples from a marine location, the relative GSH-leachable mercury concentration was strongly correlated to the relative amount of methylmercury in the sediments (r2=0.91, p<0.0001) across an order of magnitude of methylmercury concentration values. The approach was further applied to anaerobic sediment slurry microcosm experiments in which sediments were cultured under the same microbial growth conditions but were amended with multiple forms of Hg with a known spectrum of bioavailability. GSH-leachable Hg concentrations increased with observed methylmercury concentrations in the microcosms, matching the trend of species bioavailability in our previous work. Results suggest that a thiol-based selective leaching approach is an improvement compared with other proposed methods to assess Hg bioavailability in sediment and that this approach could provide a basis for comparison of sites where Hg methylation is a concern.
Ticknor, JL; Kucharzyk, KH; Porter, KA; Deshusses, MA; Hsu-Kim, H
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