Stoichiometry and kinetics of mercury uptake by photosynthetic bacteria

Mariann Kis, Gábor Sipka, Péter Maróti

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Mercury adsorption on the cell surface and intracellular uptake by bacteria represent the key first step in the production and accumulation of highly toxic mercury in living organisms. In this work, the biophysical characteristics of mercury bioaccumulation are studied in intact cells of photosynthetic bacteria by use of analytical (dithizone) assay and physiological photosynthetic markers (pigment content, fluorescence induction, and membrane potential) to determine the amount of mercury ions bound to the cell surface and taken up by the cell. It is shown that the Hg(II) uptake mechanism (1) has two kinetically distinguishable components, (2) includes co-opted influx through heavy metal transporters since the slow component is inhibited by Ca2+ channel blockers, (3) shows complex pH dependence demonstrating the competition of ligand binding of Hg(II) ions with H+ ions (low pH) and high tendency of complex formation of Hg(II) with hydroxyl ions (high pH), and (4) is not a passive but an energy-dependent process as evidenced by light activation and inhibition by protonophore. Photosynthetic bacteria can accumulate Hg(II) in amounts much (about 105) greater than their own masses by well-defined strong and weak binding sites with equilibrium binding constants in the range of 1 (μM)−1 and 1 (mM)−1, respectively. The strong binding sites are attributed to sulfhydryl groups as the uptake is blocked by use of sulfhydryl modifying agents and their number is much (two orders of magnitude) smaller than the number of weak binding sites. Biofilms developed by some bacteria (e.g., Rvx. gelatinosus) increase the mercury binding capacity further by a factor of about five. Photosynthetic bacteria in the light act as a sponge of Hg(II) and can be potentially used for biomonitoring and bioremediation of mercury-contaminated aqueous cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-209
Number of pages13
JournalPhotosynthesis research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2017



  • Bacterial photosynthesis
  • Biomediation of the environment
  • Hg(II) contamination
  • Intact cells
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology

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