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Chlorella Vulgaris

In the search for ways to fight methylmercury in global waterways, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered that some forms of phytoplankton are good at degrading the potent neurotoxin.

Jerry Parks leads the Molecular Biophysics group at ORNL, leveraging his expertise in computational chemistry and bioinformatics to unlock the inner workings of proteins—molecules that govern cellular structure and function and are essential to life. Credit: Genevieve Martin, ORNL/U.S. Dept. of Energy

When reading the novel Jurassic Park as a teenager, Jerry Parks found the passages about gene sequencing and supercomputers fascinating, but never imagined he might someday pursue such futuristic-sounding science.

ORNL’s Marie Kurz examines the many factors affecting the health of streams and watersheds. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Spanning no less than three disciplines, Marie Kurz’s title — hydrogeochemist — already gives you a sense of the collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of her research at ORNL.

Researchers gained new insights into the mechanisms some methane-feeding bacteria called methanotrophs (pictured) use to break down the toxin methylmercury. Credit: Andy Sproles/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy; Jeremy Semrau/Univ. of Michigan

A team led by ORNL and the University of Michigan have discovered that certain bacteria can steal an essential compound from other microbes to break down methane and toxic methylmercury in the environment.

The Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park encompasses a 20,000 acre area that includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Anyone familiar with ORNL knows it’s a hub for world-class science. The nearly 33,000-acre space surrounding the lab is less known, but also unique.

As the leader of ORNL’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Group, environmental scientist Teresa Mathews works to understand the impacts of energy generation on water and solve challenging problems, including mercury pollution. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Moving to landlocked Tennessee isn’t an obvious choice for most scientists with new doctorate degrees in coastal oceanography.

Water from local creeks now flows through these simulated streams in the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory, providing new opportunities to study mercury pollution and advance solutions. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

New capabilities and equipment recently installed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are bringing a creek right into the lab to advance understanding of mercury pollution and accelerate solutions.

Alex Johs at ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source

Sometimes solutions to the biggest problems can be found in the smallest details. The work of biochemist Alex Johs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory bears this out, as he focuses on understanding protein structures and molecular interactions to resolve complex global problems like the spread of mercury pollution in waterways and the food supply.


Biologists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have confirmed that microorganisms called methanogens can transform mercury into the neurotoxin methylmercury with varying efficiency across species.


A team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has identified a novel microbial process that can break down toxic methylmercury in the environment, a fundamental scientific discovery that could potentially reduce mercury toxicity levels and sup...