Environmental scientists can more efficiently detect genes required to convert mercury in the environment into more toxic methylmercury with molecular probes developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The research could help the cleanup work at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
“We now have a quick and easy-to-use tool that we can employ in any environment to test for the presence of microorganisms capable of methylating mercury and determine how abundant they are,” said ORNL’s Geoff Christensen, a post-doc and lead author of a paper published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
In 2013, ORNL researchers reported in Science on the discovery of two genes known to transform inorganic mercury into its highly toxic organic form. Development of the newly validated probes further advances research to protect human health, a press release said.
For this study, researchers tested the probes against 31 strains of microorganisms for which they know the ones that produce methylmercury and scored a 94 percent confirmation rate, the press release said. This validation procedure is critical to the next step of moving the probes into the field to help determine the amount of methylmercury likely to be generated in any given environment. [Read more…]