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UGA research links inorganic mercury exposure to damaged cell processes

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia research has found that inorganic mercury, which was previously thought to be a less harmful form of the toxic metal, is very damaging to key cell processes.

This study is the first to compare the effects of inorganic and organic mercury compounds at the biochemical, physiological and proteomic levels in any model organism, according to the study’s lead author Stephen LaVoie, a microbiology doctoral student. Published in December in theĀ Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry, the research looked at how inorganic and organic mercury affected specific molecular processes.

Inorganic mercury from the ore cinnabar was used for centuries against infections; in modern times, humans synthesized organic mercurials as antimicrobials, such as merthiolate.

“Today, most human exposure to inorganic mercury is from dental fillings, and organic mercury exposure is from methylmercury in fish,” said study co-author Anne Summers, a microbiology professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

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