Importance of sulfate reducing bacteria in mercury methylation and demethylation in periphyton from Bolivian Amazon region

Darío Achá Cordero, Holger Hintelmann, Janet Yee

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84 Scopus citations


Sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) are important mercury methylators in sediments, but information on mercury methylators in other compartments is ambiguous. To investigate SRB involvement in methylation in Amazonian periphyton, the relationship between Hg methylation potential and SRB (Desulfobacteraceae, Desulfobulbaceae and Desulfovibrionaceae) abundance in Eichhornia crassipes and Polygonum densiflorum root associated periphyton was examined. Periphyton subsamples of each macrophyte were amended with electron donors (lactate, acetate and propionate) or inhibitors (molybdate) of sulfate reduction to create differences in SRB subgroup abundance, which was measured by quantitative real-time PCR with primers specific for the 16S rRNA gene. Mercury methylation and demethylation potentials were determined by a stable isotope tracer technique using 200HgCl and CH3202HgCl, respectively. Relative abundance of Desulfobacteraceae (<0.01-12.5%) and Desulfovibrionaceae (0.01-6.8%) were both highly variable among samples and subsamples, but a significant linear relationship (p<0.05) was found between Desulfobacteraceae abundance and net methylmercury formation among treatments of the same macrophyte periphyton and among all P. densiflorum samples, suggesting that Desulfobacteraceae bacteria are the most important mercury methylators among SRB families. Yet, molybdate only partially inhibited mercury methylation potentials, suggesting the involvement of other microorganisms as well. The response of net methylmercury production to the different electron donors and molybdate was highly variable (3-1104pgg-1 in 12h) among samples, as was the net formation in control samples (17-164pgg-1 in 12h). This demonstrates the importance of community variability and complexity of microbial interactions for the overall methylmercury production in periphyton and their response to external stimulus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)911-916
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an NSERC Strategic Research Grant to Holger Hintelmann, and an NSERC Discovery Grant to Janet Yee. We thank Cecilia A. Pabón, Marc Roulet and Jean R.D. Guimarăes for their support in the field work, to Mark Dzurko for providing the control strains and C. Gilmoure for providing the original strains. We also thank Joy Zhu, Brian Dimock and Olivier Clarisse for guidance in mercury analysis and general lab assistance.


  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Periphyton
  • Stable isotopes
  • Sulfate reducing bacteria
  • Tropical lake


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