Microbial Ecology

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 139–161 | Cite as

The microbiology and biogeochemistry of the Dead Sea

  • Arie Nissenbaum


The Dead Sea is a hypersaline water body. Its total dissolved salts content is on the average 322.6 gm/liter. The dominant cation is Mg (40.7 gm/liter), followed by Na (39.2 gm/liter), Ca (17 gm/liter) and K (7 gm/liter). The major anion is Cl (212 gm/liter), followed by Br (5 gm/liter); SO4 and HCO3, are very minor. The lake contains a limited variety of microorganisms and no higher organisms. The number of recorded species is very low, but the total biomass is reasonably high (about 105 bacteria/ml and 104 algal cells/ml). The indigenous flora is comprised mainly of obligate halophylic bacteria, such as the pink, pleomorphicHalobacterium sp., aSarcina-like coccus, and the facultative halophilic green alga,Dunaliella. Sulfate reducers can be isolated from bottom sediments. Recently a unique obligate magnesiophile bacteria was isolated from Dead Sea sediment. Several of the Dead Sea organisms possess unusual properties. TheHalobacterium sp. has extremely high intercellular K+ concentration (up to 4.8M) and extraordinary specificity for K+ over Na. TheDunaliella has very high intracellular concentration of glycerol (up to 2.1M). The microorganisms exert marked influence on some biogeochemical processes occurring in the lake, such as the control of the sulfur cycle and the formation and diagenesis of organic matter in the sediments. The Dead Sea is an excellent example of the development of two different mechanisms for adjusting to a hostile environment. The algae adjust to the high salinity by developing a mechanism for the exclusion of salts from the intracellular fluid and using glycerol for osmotic regulation. On the other hand, the bacteria adapt to the environment by adjusting their internal inorganic ionic strength, but not composition, to that of the medium. The problem of population dynamics and limiting factors for algal and bacterial productivity are discussed in view of the total absence of zooplankton and other consumers other than bacteria.


HCO3 Diagenesis Salt Content Dunaliella Sulfur Cycle 
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Copyright information

© Springer Verlag New York Inc 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arie Nissenbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Isotope ResearchThe Weizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael

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