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Plastispheres as hotspots of microbially-driven methylmercury production in paddy soils

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Journal of Hazardous Materials
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Microplastics (MPs) as emerging contaminants have accumulated extensively in agricultural ecosystems and are known to exert important effects on biogeochemical processes. However, how MPs in paddy soils influence the conversion of mercury (Hg) to neurotoxic methylmercury (MeHg) remains poorly understood. Here, we evaluated the effects of MPs on Hg methylation and associated microbial communities in microcosms using two typical paddy soils in China (i.e., yellow and red soils). Results showed that the addition of MPs significantly increased MeHg production in both soils, which could be related to higher Hg methylation potential in the plastisphere than in the bulk soil. We found significant divergences in the community composition of Hg methylators between the plastisphere and the bulk soil. In addition, the plastisphere had higher proportions of Geobacterales in the yellow soil and Methanomicrobia in the red soil compared with the bulk soil, respectively; and plastisphere also had more densely connected microbial groups between non-Hg methylators and Hg methylators. These microbiota in the plastisphere are different from those in the bulk soil, which could partially account for their distinct MeHg production ability. Our findings suggest plastisphere as a unique biotope for MeHg production and provide new insights into the environment risks of MP accumulation in agricultural soils.