Open Lid Reveals Mercury

October 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mercury, the silvery liquid formerly used in thermometers, is now known to be highly toxic. The worst of the toxins are organic mercury compounds, such as methylmercury. Most previous analytical procedures for the detection of methylmercury were technically difficult and could only be carried out in a laboratory.

A Spanish and German team has now developed a new approach to detect the poison rapidly, easily, and on the spot. As the scientists report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, it is possible to imagine a rapid test in which test strips are simply dipped into suspect samples.

enters the environment through slashing and burning of rain forests and the combustion of coal; production of and cement factories also release mercury. The toxicity of mercury is strongly dependent on the types of chemical compounds it is in. The main problem is that in nature, many mercury compounds are converted into particularly dangerous methylmercury, which is concentrated in the and contaminates marine animals in particular. People who regularly eat contaminated fish suffer from complaints such as headaches, pain in the limbs, heart, circulatory, and , paralysis, and blindness. Heavy chronic poisoning is deadly.

A team headed by Ramón Martínez-Máñez at the Polytechnical University of Valencia (Spain) and Knut Rurack at the Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing (Berlin, Germany) has now developed a rapid test for the detection of this toxin based on the fact that mercury compounds are crazy about sulfur atoms. The researchers put dye molecules into the channels of an articifical porous mineral. On the surface of the mineral, they attached sulfur-containing groups, which in turn are attached to organic molecules that are so bulky that they cover the pores of the mineral like lids, keeping the dye inside. If a methylmercury-containing sample is added, it latches onto the sulfur-containing groups and splits off the “lids” of the pores. This opens the pores and releases the dye.

The main advantage of this approach is its amplification effect: only a few methylmercury particles are enough to release a large number of dye molecules. This allows for simple visual detection of trace concentrations of the toxin, even in complex biological samples. Another advantage is that the test is highly selective for methylmercury; water-soluble inorganic mercury compounds are excluded, so they do not result in a coloration.

The researchers imagine a kind of test strip that can simply be dipped into a prepared sample, of fish for example, to determine if it is contaminated with methylmercury.

More information: Ramón Martínez-Máñez, The Determination of Methylmercury in Real Samples using Organically Capped Mesoporous Inorganic Materials Capable of Signal Amplification, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2009, 48, No. 45, 8519-8522, doi: 10.1002/anie.200904243

Provided by Wiley (news : web)

Explore further: Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say

Related Stories

Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say

August 11, 2006

Mercury pollution can threaten the health of people, fish and wildlife everywhere, from industrial sites to remote corners of the planet, but reducing mercury use and emissions would lessen those threats, according to a declaration ...

How Mercury Becomes Toxic In The Environment

August 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Naturally occurring organic matter in water and sediment appears to play a key role in helping microbes convert tiny particles of mercury in the environment into a form that is dangerous to most living creatures.

Recommended for you

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Roj
not rated yet Oct 15, 2009
This could be a dangerous tool used to enforce standards for organic mercury in canned goods, municipal, and bottled water supplies.

Whomever licenses this device may find few underwriters for product liability willing to endure the gauntlet of industry-legal challenges, during the economic tsunami of such regulatory turmoil.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.