Pollution in the Antarctic may not turn many heads, but seafood lovers must beware of mercury-tainted fish from the southern seas finding its way onto their plates. New research shows how a certain type of sea-ice bacteria may be converting existing mercury into an even more potent neurotoxin that is harmful to the environment, marine life, and those higher up the food chain.

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A study published in the journal Nature discovered how the Nitrospinia bacterium is turning mercury into methylmercury, which can cause developmental impairments in infants and children. Through biomagnification, or the substance concentrating in the fatty tissue of animals who are then consumed by bigger animals, the toxin can easily make its way into the human food supply and wreak havoc.

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Mercury can accumulate in the environment through both natural means, such as volcanic eruptions, or manmade means, including gold smelting and burning fossil fuels. The discovery of the methylmercury conversion process in the south raises questions about worldwide pollution, especially as the planet gets hotter. Dr. Moreau, a geomicrobiologist, said, “We need to understand more about marine mercury pollution. Particularly in a warming climate and when depleted fish stocks means more seafood companies are looking south.”

Via Popular Science

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