Mercury Microbiology

Microbes track pollution through time

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Science  10 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6244, pp. 151-152
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6244.151-f

Genes present in buried lake sediments can help reconstruct how microbial ecosystems responded to past exposure to mercury. When atmospheric mercury transported around the globe is eventually deposited in terrestrial or aquatic environments, microorganisms control its cycling and bioaccumulation. Poulain et al. isolated ancient microbial DNA from sediments in remote subarctic lakes in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada. The distribution of genes coding for mercuric reductase (merA), the primary enzyme involved in mercury detoxification, correlates with historical mercury deposition, including a rapid population shift at the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

ISME J. 10.1038/ismej.2015.86 (2015).

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