Tissue content of thiol-containing amino acids predicts methylmercury in aquatic invertebrates
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Aquatic invertebrates vary in methylmercury (MeHg) levels among systems which has been attributed, in part, to environmental conditions, but may also be linked to differences in their biochemical composition. As MeHg is known to bind to thiol-containing amino acids such as cysteine in proteins of fish, our objective was to determine if these amino acids explain MeHg variability among aquatic invertebrate taxa. Benthic macroinvertebrates from diverse functional feeding groups and bulk zooplankton were collected from six acidic lakes in Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada, and analyzed for MeHg, cysteine (as cysteic acid), methionine (as methionine sulfone), and nitrogen (relative trophic level, δ15N) and carbon (carbon source, δ13C) isotopes. MeHg was significantly and positively related to cysteine or methionine in zooplankton, caddisfly and stonefly tissues (R2 from 0.24 to 0.57). In addition, methionine or cysteine in combination with δ15N and/or δ13C were better predictors of MeHg levels in stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies and zooplankton among these lakes (R2adj = 0.25-0.91). Overall, these novel findings suggest that the variability in MeHg of aquatic invertebrates can be explained, in part, by their tissue levels of thiol-containing amino acids.
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