Soil Geobacteraceae are the key predictors of neurotoxic methylmercury bioaccumulation in rice

Huan Zhong*, Wenli Tang, Zizhu Li, Christian Sonne*, Su Shiung Lam, Xiao Zhang, Sae Yun Kwon, Jörg Rinklebe, Luís M. Nunes, Ri Qing Yu, Baohua Gu, Holger Hintelmann, Martin Tsz Ki Tsui, Jiating Zhao, Xin Quan Zhou, Mengjie Wu, Beibei Liu, Yunyun Hao, Long Chen*, Baogang ZhangWenfeng Tan, Xu Xiang Zhang, Hongqiang Ren, Yu Rong Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Contamination of rice by the potent neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) originates from microbe-mediated Hg methylation in soils. However, the high diversity of Hg methylating microorganisms in soils hinders the prediction of MeHg formation and challenges the mitigation of MeHg bioaccumulation via regulating soil microbiomes. Here we explored the roles of various cropland microbial communities in MeHg formation in the potentials leading to MeHg accumulation in rice and reveal that Geobacteraceae are the key predictors of MeHg bioaccumulation in paddy soil systems. We characterized Hg methylating microorganisms from 67 cropland ecosystems across 3,600 latitudinal kilometres. The simulations of a rice-paddy biogeochemical model show that MeHg accumulation in rice is 1.3–1.7-fold more sensitive to changes in the relative abundance of Geobacteraceae compared to Hg input, which is recognized as the primary parameter in controlling MeHg exposure. These findings open up a window to predict MeHg formation and accumulation in human food webs, enabling more efficient mitigation of risks to human health through regulations of key soil microbiomes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Food
Pages (from-to)301-311
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Bioaccumulation
  • Methylmercury Compounds/metabolism
  • Microbiota/drug effects
  • Oryza/metabolism
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Soil Pollutants/metabolism
  • Soil/chemistry


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