About This Lab
In the Barkay Lab we are studying the biogeochemical cycle of mercury with a focus on the role of microbial transformations in the toxicity, bioavailability, and environmental mobility of this toxic metal. Because the food chain accumulation of a specific form of mercury, the neurotoxic methylmercury, is the cause of public health concern with mercury contamination, microbial transformations are a critical component in mercury research. The unifying premise of our investigations is that microbes, by changing the chemical form of mercury, modulate the effects of mercury contamination on human health and the environment.
Transformations of mercury, mediated by complex biochemical and genetic mechanisms, are greatly impacted by the interactions of this metal with the chemical and physical environment in which microbes live. Therefore, our studies span many scales from atoms to entire ecosystems. In addition, mercury is a globally distributed contaminant whereby mercury that is emitted in industrialized zones travels via the atmosphere to remote locations where it accumulates in local, otherwise pristine, food chains. For this reason, our studies often take us to remote locations from the depth of the oceans to the tundra in polar-regions. To understand the environmental behavior of mercury we combine knowledge from microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, geology, and environmental sciences. The interdisciplinary nature of our research has led our lab to extensive collaborations with colleagues from Rutgers and other institutions in many countries.