[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT:
San Francisco Bay has been contaminated historically by mercury from mine tailings as well as contemporary industrial sources. Native Spartina foliosa and non-native S. alterniflora-hybrid cordgrasses are dominant florae within the SF Bay estuary environment. Understanding mercury uptake and transformations in these plants will help to characterize the significance of their roles in mercury biogeochemical cycling in the estuarine environment. Methylated mercury can be biomagnified up the food web, resulting in levels in sport fish up to 1 million times greater than in surrounding waters and resulting in advisories to limit fish intake. Understanding the uptake and methylation of mercury in the plant rhizosphere can yield insight into ways to manage mercury contamination. The transmission X-ray microscope on beamline 6-2 at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) was used to obtain absorption contrast images and 3D tomography of Spartina foliosa roots that were exposed to 1 ppm Hg (as HgCl2) hydroponically for 1 week. Absorption contrast images of micrometer-sized roots from S. foliosa revealed dark particles, and dark channels within the root, due to Hg absorption. 3D tomography showed that the particles are on the root surface, and slices from the tomographic reconstruction revealed that the particles are hollow, consistent with microorganisms with a thin layer of Hg on the surface. Hg L3 XANES of ground-up plant roots and Hg L3 micro-XANES from microprobe analysis of micrometer-sized roots (60-120 microm in size) revealed three main types of speciation in both Spartina species: Hg-S ligation in a form similar to Hg(II) cysteine, Hg-S bonding as in cinnabar and metacinnabar, and methylmercury-carboxyl bonding in a form similar to methylmercury acetate. These results are interpreted within the context of obtaining a "snapshot" of mercury methylation in progress.
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Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) is a non-native plant found in abundance in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (hereafter called Delta). This species has become a problem, clogging waterways and wetlands. Water hyacinth are also known to accumulate mercury. Recent attempts to curb its proliferation have included shredding with specialized boats. The purpose of this research is to better understand the ability of water hyacinth to phytoremediate mercury and to determine the effect of shredding and anoxic conditions on mercury speciation in plant tissue. In the field assessment, total mercury levels in sediment from the Dow Wetlands in the Delta were found to be 0.273 +/- 0.070 ppm Hg, and levels in hyacinth roots and shoots from this site were 1.17 +/- 0.08 ppm and 1.03 +/- 0.52 ppm, respectively, indicating bioaccumulation of mercury. Plant samples collected at this site were also grown in nutrient solution with 1 ppm HgCl2 under (1) aerobic conditions, (2) anaerobic conditions, and (3)with shredded plant material only. The greatest accumulation was found in the roots of whole plants. Plants grown in these conditions were also analyzed at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory using Hg L3 X-ray Absorption Near Edge Spectroscopy (XANES), a method to examine speciation that is element-specific and noninvasive. Least-squares fitting of the XANES data to methylated and inorganic mercury(II) model compounds revealed that in plants grown live and aerobically, 5 +/- 3% of the mercury was in the form of methylmercury, in a form similar to methylmercury cysteine. This percentage increased to 16 +/- 4% in live plants grown anaerobically and to 22 +/- 6% in shredded anaerobic plants. We conclude that shredding of the hyacinth plants and, in fact, subjection of plants to anaerobic conditions (e.g., as in normal decay, or in crowded growth conditions) increases mercury methylation. Mechanical removal of the entire plant is significantly more expensive than shredding, but it may be necessary to avoid increased biomagnification of mercury in infested areas.