Biology of Marine Fungi

Volume 53 of the series Progress in Molecular and Subcellular Biology pp 115-132


Fungal Life in the Dead Sea

  • Aharon OrenAffiliated withDepartment of Plant and Environmental Sciences, The Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Email author 
  • , Nina Gunde-CimermanAffiliated withBiology Department, University of Ljubljana

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The waters of the Dead Sea currently contain about 348 g/l salts (2 M Mg2+, 0.5 M Ca2+, 1.5 M Na+, 0.2 M K+, 6.5 M Cl, 0.1 M Br). The pH is about 6.0. After rainy winters the surface waters become diluted, triggering development of microbial blooms. The 1980 and 1992 blooms were dominated by the unicellular green alga Dunaliella and red Archaea. At least 70 species (in 26 genera) of Oomycota (Chromista), Mucoromycotina, Ascomycota, and Basidiomycota (Fungi) were isolated from near-shore localities and offshore stations, including from deep waters. Aspergillus and Eurotium were most often recovered. Aspergillus terreus, A. sydowii, A. versicolor, Eurotium herbariorum, Penicillium westlingii, Cladosporium cladosporioides, C. sphaerospermum, C. ramnotellum, and C. halotolerans probably form the stable core of the community. The species Gymnascella marismortui may be endemic. Mycelia of Dead Sea isolates of A. versicolor and Chaetomium globosum remained viable for up to 8 weeks in Dead Sea water; mycelia of other species survived for many weeks in 50% Dead Sea water. Many isolates showed a very high tolerance to magnesium salts. There is no direct proof that fungi contribute to the heterotrophic activity in the Dead Sea, but fungi may be present at least locally and temporarily, and their enzymatic activities such as amylase, protease, and cellulase may play a role in the lake’s ecosystem.