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UT Knoxville and ORNL researchers reveal key to how bacteria clear mercury pollution

Mercury pollution is a persistent problem in the environment. Human activity has lead to increasingly large accumulations of the toxic chemical, especially in waterways, where fish and shellfish tend to act as sponges for the heavy metal.

It's that persistent and toxic nature that has flummoxed scientists for years in the quest to find ways to mitigate the dangers posed by the buildup of mercury in its most toxic form, methylmercury.

A new discovery by scientists at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, however, has shed new light on one of nature's best mercury fighters: bacteria.

"Mercury pollution is a significant environmental problem," said Jeremy Smith, a UT-ORNL Governor's Chair and lead author of the new study. "That's especially true for organisms at or near the top of the food chain, such as fish, shellfish, and ultimately, humans. But some bacteria seem to know how to break down the worst forms of it. Understanding how they do this is valuable information."
 
 

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