The Dead Sea is rapidly drying out. The lake is supersaturated with NaCl, and precipitated of halite from the water column has led to a decrease in sodium content, while concentrations of magnesium and calcium greatly increased, making the lake an ever more extreme environment for microbial life. In the past decades, blooms of algae (Dunaliella) and halophilic Archaea were twice observed in the lake (1980-1982 and 1992-1995), triggered by massive inflow of freshwater floods, but no conditions suitable for renewed microbial growth have occurred since. To examine whether the Death Sea in its current state (density 1.24 g ml-1, water activity about 0.67) still supports life of halophilic Archaea, we collected particulate matter from a depth of 5 m at an offshore station by means of tangential filtration. Presence of bacterioruberin carotenoids, albeit at low concentrations, in the particulate material showed the members of the Halobactericacae were still present in the lake's water column. Amplification of 16S rRNA genes from the biomass yielded genes with less than 95% identify with environmental sequences reported from other environments and only 85-95% identity with cultivated Halobacteriaceae. It is thus shown that the Dead Sea, in spite of the ever more adverse conditions to life, supports a unique and varied community of halophilic Archaea. We have also isolated a number of strains of Halobacteriaceae from the samples collected, and their characterization is currently in progress.
Bodaker, Idan; Beja, Oded; Sharon, Itai; Feingersch, Roi; Rosenberg, Mira; Oren, Aharon; Hindiyeh, Muna Y.; and Malkawi, Hanan I.
"Archaeal diversity in the Dead Sea: Microbial survival under increasingly harsh conditions,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues:
Vol. 15, Article 25.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol15/iss1/25