Metal of the Month: Mercury

Sun rising over Mercury

Named after the planet recently popular in the news for the discovery of water in its north pole, mercury is the metal of this month.

Mercury was a Roman god, patron of financial gain, commerce, eloquence and luck. Known as “messenger of gods” for his numerous flights from place to place, he was also considered god of travellers and thieves.

The god Mercury influenced science in many ways, and his name is now associated to both the planet and the chemical element.

Mercury thermometer

People have always been fascinated by mercury because of its appearance of heavy liquid metal extracted by heating the red ore cinnabar. It is a heavy silvery metal with mirror-like appearance and is liquid at room temperature. Most of us have probably used a mercury thermometer at least once. In a mercury thermometer, a glass tube is filled with liquid mercury and has a scale marked on the tube. With changes of temperature, mercury expands and the temperature can be measured reading the scale on the tube. Today it is not easy to buy a mercury thermometer for home use for a simple reason: the mercury released from a broken thermometer is highly toxic. The pure metal is in fact absorbed easily by ingestion, inhalation or through the skin and can cause chronic or acute poisoning.
The use of mercury is now limited to industry in the manufacture of chlorine and sodium hydroxide. This metal can be used in making advertising signs, mercury switches and other electrical apparatus. However, because of its toxicity, also these uses are considered obsolete and are currently under review.

As mercury has no known biological role and is highly poisonous, it is now handled with good care and the latest research aims to find ways to reduce adsorption of mercury by the human body or improving detection of the metal in fish/animal tissue, water or food.

To know all about the most important discoveries related to mercury, here is a list of papers for you to take a look. They will be free until February 18th. Enjoy!

Greek and Roman god Mercury

Metallomics investigations on potential binding partners of methylmercury in tuna fish muscle tissue using complementary mass spectrometric techniques
Daniel J. Kutscher ,  Alfredo Sanz-Medel and Jörg Bettmer
Metallomics, 2012,4, 807-813
DOI: 10.1039/C2MT20055D

Identification of mercury and other metals complexes with metallothioneins in dolphin liver by hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography with the parallel detection by ICP MS and electrospray hybrid linear/orbital trap MS/MS
Z. Pedrero ,  L. Ouerdane ,  S. Mounicou ,  R. Lobinski ,  M. Monperrus and D. Amouroux
Metallomics, 2012, 4, 473-479
DOI: 10.1039/C2MT00006G

Exploring the structural basis for selenium/mercury antagonism in Allium fistulosum
David H. McNear ,  Scott E. Afton and Joseph A. Caruso
Metallomics, 2012, 4, 267-276
DOI: 10.1039/C2MT00158F

The presence of mercury selenide in various tissues of the striped dolphin: evidence from μ-XRF-XRD and XAFS analyses
Emiko Nakazawa ,  Tokutaka Ikemoto ,  Akiko Hokura ,  Yasuko Terada ,  Takashi Kunito ,  Shinsuke Tanabe and Izumi Nakai
Metallomics, 2011, 3, 719-725
DOI: 10.1039/C0MT00106F

Liquid mercury at room temperature

The chemical forms of mercury and selenium in whale skeletal muscle
Graham N. George ,  Tracy C. MacDonald ,  Malgorzata Korbas ,  Satya P. Singh ,  Gary J. Myers ,  Gene E. Watson ,  John L. O’Donoghue and Ingrid J. Pickering
Metallomics, 2011, 3, 1232-1237
DOI: 10.1039/C1MT00077B

Adduct formation of Thimerosal with human and rat hemoglobin: a study using liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC/ESI-TOF-MS)
Rasmus Janzen ,  Miriam Schwarzer ,  Michael Sperling ,  Martin Vogel ,  Tanja Schwerdtle and Uwe Karst
Metallomics, 2011, 3, 847-852
DOI: 10.1039/C1MT00043H

In vivo phytochelatins and Hg–phytochelatin complexes in Hg-stressed Brassica chinensis L.
Liqin Chen ,  Limin Yang and Qiuquan Wang
Metallomics, 2009, 1, 101-106
DOI: 10.1039/B815477E

You can also take a look at the RSC Visual Element Periodic Table, and the Chemistry in its Element podcast. If you work in the area of mercury biology, we hope you will consider submitting your next paper to Metallomics.

All images are courtesy of Shutterstock.

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