Mercury is a global pollutant in which methylmercury (MeHg) is the most notorious of all other chemical species. MeHg, after entering the bloodstream, binds to the Sulfhydryl groups (SH- groups) present in the cysteine amino acid (Sulfur-containing amino acid).

It is a molecular mimicry at play; MeHg disguises itself as methionine, the universal start codon for mRNA transcription to protein in living systems. As quoted in the art of war by Sun Tzu, “Kill an enemy using its own weapon/strategy”. We are functionalizing our nanomaterials with SH- groups to adsorb MeHg from an aqueous solution.

As a Early-stage researcher (ESR 11-Allwin Mabes Raj) of the GMOS-Train project received training in synthesizing and stabilizing nanomaterials. I has synthesized nine different nanomaterials so far, which will be used for the adsorption of Inorganic mercury (Hg2+) and methylmercury (MeHg) from the aqueous solution.

Transmission electron microscopic images of the silica nanoparticles without a functional group (Figure.1), silica nanoparticles with an amino-functional group (Figure.2) and silica nanoparticles with a mercapto functional group (-SH) (Figure.3) are depicted below.

The prepared nanomaterials are used for preconcentration of Hg2+ and MeHg ions in the aqueous solution. The nanomaterials can be designed to mask specific mercury species, which can be interferences when detecting MeHg using the Nano-biosensor. The nanomaterials have many applications, especially in biosensing MeHg, increasing the sensitivity to several magnitudes. I have these synthesized nanomaterials in the Institute of Environmental Protection and Sensors, Slovenia, my host institute.

The main objective as an early stage researcher will be carried out in Institute Josef Stefan, Slovenia, which is to understand the process of sensor development, which involves interdisciplinary topics and includes some knowledge from the material and nanomaterial science photonics, chemicals, optical indicators as well as molecular-biology. My main goal is to design an appropriate nano-biosensor for MeHg detection, which should be very sensitive (to detect very low MeHg concentration), selective (to detect MeHg and no other species of mercury).

By Allwin Mabes Raj (ESR 11)