The relative importance of mercury methylation and demethylation in rice paddy soil varies depending on the presence of rice plants

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
By: , and 



Neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg) accumulates in rice grain from paddy soil, where its concentration is controlled by microbial mercury methylation and demethylation. Both up- and down-regulation of methylation is known to occur in the presence of rice plants in comparison to non-vegetated paddy soils; the influence of rice plant presence/absence on demethylation is unknown. To assess the concurrent influence of rice plant presence/absence on methylation and demethylation, and to determine which process was more dominant in controlling soil MeHg concentrations, we maintained six rhizoboxes of paddy soil with and without rice plants. At the peak of plant growth, we simultaneously measured ambient MeHg, ambient inorganic mercury (IHg), and potential rate constants of methylation and demethylation (Kmeth and Kdemeth) in soil using stable isotope tracers and ID-GC-ICPMS. We also measured organic matter content, elemental S, and water-extractable sulfate. We found MeHg concentrations were differentially controlled by MeHg production and degradation processes, depending on whether plants were present. In non-vegetated boxes, MeHg concentration was controlled by Kmeth, as evidenced by a strong and positive correlation, while Kdemeth had no relation to MeHg concentration. These results indicate methylation was the dominant driver of MeHg concentration in non-vegetated soil. In vegetated boxes, Kdemeth strongly and negatively predicted MeHg concentration, indicating that demethylation was the dominant control in soil with plants. MeHg concentration, Kmeth, and % MeHg all had significantly less variance in vegetated than in non-vegetated soils due to a consistent elimination of greater values. This pattern suggests that reduced MeHg production capacity was a secondary control on MeHg concentrations in vegetated soils. We observed no difference in the magnitude or variance of Kdemeth between treatments, suggesting that demethylation was robust to soil chemical conditions influenced by the plant, perhaps because of a wider taxonomic diversity of demethylators. Our results suggest that methylation and demethylation processes could both be leveraged to alter MeHg concentrations in rice paddy soil.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The relative importance of mercury methylation and demethylation in rice paddy soil varies depending on the presence of rice plants
Series title Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2021.113143
Volume 230
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description 113143, 10 p.
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