We investigated the chemistry of Hg(II) during exposure of exponentially growing bacteria (Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Geobacter sulfurreducens) to 50 nM, 500 nM, and 5 μM total Hg(II) with and without added cysteine. With X-ray absorption spectroscopy, we provide direct evidence of the formation of cell-associated HgS for all tested bacteria. The addition of cysteine (100-1000 μM) promotes HgS formation (>70% of total cell-associated Hg(II)) as a result of the biodegradation of added cysteine to sulfide. Cell-associated HgS species are also detected when cysteine is not added as a sulfide source. Two phases of HgS, cinnabar (α-HgS) and metacinnabar (β-HgS), form depending on the total concentration of Hg(II) and sulfide in the exposure medium. However, α-HgS exclusively forms in assays that contain an excess of cysteine. Scanning transmission electron microscopy images reveal that nanoparticulate HgS(s) is primarily located at the cell surface/extracellular matrix of Gram-negative E. coli and G. sulfurreducens and in the cytoplasm/cell membrane of Gram-positive B. subtilis. Intracellular Hg(II) was detected even when the predominant cell-associated species was HgS. This study shows that HgS species can form from exogenous thiol-containing ligands and endogenous sulfide in Hg(II) biouptake assays under nondissimilatory sulfate reducing conditions, providing new considerations for the interpretation of Hg(II) biouptake results.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry