Antarctic Sea Ice Has Toxic Levels Of Mercury, Beware

First Posted: Aug 03, 2016 06:48 AM EDT

A research team from Melbourne University has found that potent neurotoxin methylmercury is found in Antarctic sea ice. The team, which has been working from ice breaker Aurora Australis found that there were also bacteria along with the mercury compound, and that the two may be linked somehow.

Dr. John Moreau, a geo microbiologist from the University Of Melbourne School Of Earth Sciences shared with the Australian Broadcasting Company that mercury is a major contaminant that can be transformed into a neurotoxin, and can even be toxic in its ionic state. Because of this, it is important to understand its biogeochemical cycle and how it is transformed to its more or less toxic forms.

Researchers were said to have been collecting samples if the Antarctic Sea Ice while they were on a two-month expedition, to better understand how the compound could enter the marine environment, and eventually into the food that humans ingest. Ice from icebreaker Aurora Australis was tested for mercury, as were the DNA and proteins from sea ice microorganisms.

The International Business Times noted that researchers found sea ice to have contained bacteria that has "genetic ability" to convert mercury into a more toxic form - methylmercury. "These results are the first to identify a particular genus of bacteria, Nitrospina, as capable of producing methylmercury in Antarctic ice," Moreau said in a statement.

Methylmercury can then pose several threats to humans - contamination can result in developmental and physical problems in children, infants, and even fetuses in their mothers' wombs. Moreau also said that it all begins with mercury - and because the pollutant can be released through various means and can stay in the atmosphere for long periods, it can travel up to thousands of kilometers, affecting many aspects in the environment - from predator fish to humans. Caitlin Gionfriddo, co-author of the study said, "Larger fish eat smaller contaminated fish, and continuously accumulate methylmercury at harmful levels for human consumption."

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