The microbial ecology lab studies the biogeochemistry of mercury.
Mercury is a global pollutant. Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuel combustion and mining activities have emitted mercury into the atmosphere. Mercury is released into aquatic ecosystems as a result, through industrial processes like chorine, plastics and munitions production. As the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, mercury has been widely used in switches and thermometers.
In the aquatic environment, microorganisms can transform mercury into methylmercury. This form of the metal accumulates in food webs and causes significant risk to top predators – including humans – worldwide.
SERC's microbial ecology lab seeks to understand the microbial methylation process in ecosystems. We study where methylmercury is produced, under what conditions and by which microorganisms. We use this information to design effective controls for mercury pollution in the environment.