Organic mercury (Hg) is a global pollutant of concern and selenium is believed to afford protection against mercury risk though few approaches exist to rapidly assess both chemicals in biological samples. Here, micro-scale and rapid methods to detect organic mercury (< 1.5 ml total sample volume, < 1.5 hour) and total selenium (Se; < 3.0 ml total volume, < 3 hour) from a range of biological samples (10-50 mg) are described.
For organic Hg, samples are digested using Tris-HCl buffer (with sequential additions of protease, NaOH, cysteine, CuSO4, acidic NaBr) followed by extraction with toluene and Na2S2O3. The final product is analyzed via commercially available direct/total mercury analyzers. For Se, a fluorometric assay has been developed for microplate readers that involves digestion (HNO3-HClO4 and HCl), conjugation (2,3-diaminonaphthalene), and cyclohexane extraction. Recovery of organic Hg (86-107%) and Se (85-121%) were determined through use of Standard Reference Materials and lemon shark kidney tissues.
The approaches outlined provide an easy, rapid, reproducible, and cost-effective platform for monitoring organic Hg and total Se in biological samples. Owing to the importance of organic Hg and Se in the pathophysiology of Hg, integration of such methods into established research monitoring efforts (that largely focus on screening total Hg only) will help increase understanding of Hg's true risks.
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