Molecular evidence for novel mercury methylating microorganisms in sulfate-impacted lakes

Daniel S Jones, Gabriel M. Walker, Nate Johnson, Carl P.J. Mitchell, Jill K. Coleman Wasik, Jake Bailey

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Abstract

Methylmercury (MeHg) is a bioaccumulative neurotoxin that is produced by certain anaerobic microorganisms, but the abundance and importance of different methylating populations in the environment is not well understood. We combined mercury geochemistry, hgcA gene cloning, rRNA methods, and metagenomics to compare microbial communities associated with MeHg production in two sulfate-impacted lakes on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. The two lakes represent regional endmembers among sulfate-impacted sites in terms of their dissolved sulfide concentrations and MeHg production potential. rRNA amplicon sequencing indicates that sediments and anoxic bottom waters from both lakes contained diverse communities with multiple clades of sulfate reducing Deltaproteobacteria and Clostridia. In hgcA gene clone libraries, however, hgcA sequences were from taxa associated with methanogenesis and iron reduction in addition to sulfate reduction, and the most abundant clones were from unknown groups. We therefore applied metagenomics to identify the unknown populations in the lakes with the capability to methylate mercury, and reconstructed 27 genomic bins with hgcA. Some of the most abundant potential methylating populations were from phyla that are not typically associated with MeHg production, including a relative of the Aminicenantes (formerly candidate phylum OP8) and members of the Kiritimatiellaeota (PVC superphylum) and Spirochaetes that, together, were more than 50% of the potential methylators in some samples. These populations do not have genes for sulfate reduction, and likely degrade organic compounds by fermentation or other anaerobic processes. Our results indicate that previously unrecognized populations with hgcAB are abundant and may be important for MeHg production in some freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1659-1675
Number of pages17
JournalISME Journal
Volume13
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

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Lakes
Mercury
mercury
Sulfates
sulfates
microorganism
sulfate
microorganisms
lakes
lake
Metagenomics
Population
gene
clone
Iron
Clone Cells
Deltaproteobacteria
ribosomal RNA
iron
clones

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Molecular evidence for novel mercury methylating microorganisms in sulfate-impacted lakes. / Jones, Daniel S; Walker, Gabriel M.; Johnson, Nate; Mitchell, Carl P.J.; Coleman Wasik, Jill K.; Bailey, Jake.

In: ISME Journal, Vol. 13, No. 7, 01.07.2019, p. 1659-1675.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Jones, Daniel S ; Walker, Gabriel M. ; Johnson, Nate ; Mitchell, Carl P.J. ; Coleman Wasik, Jill K. ; Bailey, Jake. / Molecular evidence for novel mercury methylating microorganisms in sulfate-impacted lakes. In: ISME Journal. 2019 ; Vol. 13, No. 7. pp. 1659-1675.
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