Biodiversity is one of the Earth’s greatest treasures that spellbound biologists for centuries. It is widely agreed that biodiversity is essential to increase appreciation for the value of biodiversity, since the ecosystems services, through biodiversity, play a fundamental tile in maintaining and enhancing the well being of the world, it is well-known that human health, wealth, security and culture are affected by any changes in the ecosystem. Still, additional research is required to understand the relationship between the ecosystem and biodiversity.
Microorganisms can exist even in the most inhospitable habitats with extreme conditions. Despite their size, these unicellular organisms have a huge impact on different aspects of human life such as health, industry and agriculture. Furthermore, microorganisms play a vital role in biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem functioning; therefore, understanding their role in the environment will provide us with knowledge that can be applied towards preserving and sustaining our natural ecosystems.
Halobacterium – Native Flora of the Dead Sea
For the majority of mankind’s history and from the anthropocentric view, the Dead Sea has been considered the model of an absolutely lifeless body of water. However, this concept was proven inaccurate with the discovery of halophylic Archaea, the native flora of the Dead Sea.
An example of a well-adapted and widely distributed halophylic microorganism is Halobacterium sp [HS].HS exhibits a highly acidic cytoplasm saturated with potassium Chloride, with potassium acting as antifreeze to keep the cell metabolism functioning. With HS being able to withstand very high levels of salinity, they can be used to engineer a new type of crops.
HS serves as an excellent model system for the study of archaeal genetics. Halophiles have recently been targeted for their potential use in environmental and biotechnological applications. With few exceptions, little is known about the applications of extremophiles that can be a great source of novel commercial applications. Before HS proteins application becomes widespread, many key features of HS genes regulation need to be identified.
Promises and Challenges
The Dead Sea presents an interesting challenge to the biologists in term of the microbial ecology and understanding the biological processes. Microbes that live in the Dead Sea serve as an excellent example of the development of several unique biochemical and molecular mechanisms to adjusting to a hostile environment.
Since little is known on the contribution of the different genera and species of halophilic Archaea to the community in the Dead Sea, it will be of a great significance if further holistic studies will be conducted to solve the major puzzle of the microbial population dynamics and explore the possible connection between HS to the other different communities of the Dead Sea.
Toxic organic compounds frequently contaminate industrially produced highly saline environment, therefore microorganisms that are able to degrade organic compounds under high saline conditions would be valuable for their ability to “clean” out these environments.
Based on the fact that Haloarchaea possesses some degree of organic degrading capacity. Dong-Jin Ha et al suggest the usage of HS as a biological treatment tool for highly saline industrial waste effluents that contaminate the environment. Their study evaluated the usage of HS in order to degrade the IPA (isopropyl alcohol) that is used in a number of industries, including pharmaceuticals, textile production, and cosmetics. Their results indicate that the GAPDH isolated from HS may be valuable in industries involving IPA processing.
Furthermore, by blending the genes of Halophiles with crop genes, scientists will be able to engineer new crops that are able to grow in soils with higher than average salinity. This will allow, to some extent, the use of water with above average salinity to water the crops.
Further studies aiming to explore HS operon regulation and gene expression will generate new horizons for their application. There is a great advantage of understanding the molecular mechanisms of the HS regulatory systems, since it will make manipulating many proteins production an easy mission creating a new generation of novel and unknown value based products, as well as environmental and other possible utilities.
To conclude, the Dead Sea and its surrounding environment have been extremely degraded due to unsustainable anthropogenic activities. The significant strong ethical, cultural, environmental and economic benefits from conservation of the Dead Sea make it essential that the current economic practices taking place at the Dead Sea Basin be reconsidered.
About the Authors
Nura A. Abboud is an environmental activist and Founder of the Jordanian Society for Microbial Biodiversity (JMB), the only NGO in the Middle East concerning the microbial biodiversity. Nura specializes in molecular biology, biological sciences, microbial biodiversity, genetic fingerprinting and medical technologies. Her vision is to establish an eco-research center in the astonishing desert south of Jordan. She has received several scholarships and awards including honorary doctorate in Environmental leadership.
Amir Dakkak is in his third year at the University of Edinburgh majoring in Environmental Sciences. His main passion is water scarcity and water sustainability in the MENA region. He runs the blog Water Source that addresses water problems and sustainability. Amir has worked with Emirates Environmental Group on various environmental issues including water scarcity.