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Volatilization of Mercury By Bacteria
  1. L. Magos*,
  2. A. A. Tuffery,
  3. T. W. Clarkson
  1. Toxicology Research Unit and Laboratory Animals Centre, Medical Research Council Laboratories, Carshalton, Surrey


    Volatilization of mercury has been observed from various biological media (tissue homogenates, infusion broth, plasma, urine) containing mercuric chloride. That micro-organisms were responsible was indicated by the finding that the rates of volatilization were highly variable, that a latent period often preceded volatilization, that toluene inhibited the process, and that the capacity to volatilize mercury could be transferred from one biological medium to another. Two species of bacteria when isolated and cultured from these homogenates were able to volatilize mercury. Two other bacteria, one of which was isolated from the local water supply, were also highly active. The volatile mercury was identified as mercury vapour. The importance of these findings in relation to the storage of urine samples prior to mercury analysis is discussed.

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    • * Wellcome Trust Fellow.

    • Present address: Department of Microbiology, School of Medicine, Perth, W. Australia.