Microbial reduction of inorganic divalent mercury (Hg 2+) and methylmercury (MeHg) demethylation is performed by the mer operon, specifically by merA and merB genes, respectively, but little is known about the mercury tolerance capacity of marine microorganisms and its prevalence in the ocean. Here, combining culture-dependent analyses with metagenomic and metatranscriptomic data, we show that marine bacteria that encode mer genes are widespread and active in the global ocean. We explored the distribution of these genes in 290 marine heterotrophic bacteria ( Alteromonas and Marinobacter spp.) isolated from different oceanographic regions and depths, and assessed their tolerance to diverse concentrations of Hg 2+ and MeHg. In particular, the Alteromonas sp. ISS312 strain presented the highest tolerance capacity and a degradation efficiency for MeHg of 98.2% in 24 h. Fragment recruitment analyses of Alteromonas sp. genomes (ISS312 strain and its associated reconstructed metagenome assembled genome MAG-0289) against microbial bathypelagic metagenomes confirm their prevalence in the deep ocean. Moreover, we retrieved 54 merA and 6 merB genes variants related to the Alteromonas sp. ISS312 strain from global metagenomes and metatranscriptomes from Tara Oceans. Our findings highlight the biological reductive MeHg degradation as a relevant pathway of the ocean Hg biogeochemical cycle.
- marine bacteria
- mercury-resistant bacteria
- minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC)