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Two Centuries of Microbiological Research in the Wadi Natrun, Egypt: A Model System for the Study of the Ecology, Physiology, and Taxonomy of Haloalkaliphilic Microorganisms

  • Aharon OrenEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 27)

Abstract

The alkaline hypersaline lakes of the Wadi Natrun (most sources use the name “Wadi Natrun”; others prefer “Wadi An Natrun.”), Egypt, recently became famous following the description of the haloalkalithermophiles (order Natranaerobiales) discovered by Juergen Wiegel and his colleagues. However, it is seldom realized how many important discoveries in the past were based on the study of the Wadi Natrun and its microorganisms. The red coloration of the brines by “a vegetal-animal substance” was mentioned in 1799 by General Antoine Andréossy of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Studies published by Sickenberger (Chemiker-Zeitung, 16:1645–1646 and 16:1691, 1892) and Schweinfurth and Lewin (1899) presented state-of-the-art information on biogeochemical processes in the lakes, including sulfate reduction, other anaerobic degradation processes (including the formation of trimethylamine, a process understood only much later), anoxygenic photosynthesis, and the nature of the pigments of the microbial communities. Studies in the 1950s on the nature of the red pigmentation of the lakes by Holger Jannasch and on the link between bacterial sulfate reduction and alkalinity by Yousef Abd-el-Malek in the 1960s remain relevant today. Halorhodospira abdelmalekii (basonym Ectothiorhodospira abdelmalekii) was named to honor Abd-el-Malek’s contributions. Microbiological exploration of the Wadi Natrun resumed in the mid-1970s by Hans Trüper, Johannes Imhoff, and others. Studies of two organisms isolated from the site led to some of the most exciting discoveries in microbiology in the past decades: Natronomonas pharaonis became the model for the study of haloalkaliphilic Archaea and for research on halorhodopsin and sensory rhodopsins; the compatible solutes glycine betaine and ectoine, the latter of which has found interesting biotechnological applications, were first detected in Halorhodospira halochloris.

Keywords

Glycine Betaine Soda Lake Osmotic Solute Bacterial Sulfate Reduction Desulfovibrio Desulfuricans 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

I thank Michael W. Adams, Robert J. Maier, and William B. Whitman (University of Georgia, Athens) for inviting me to participate in the symposium on “Extremophiles: Key to Bioenergy,” September 19–20, 2011, organized in honor of Juergen Wiegel, and to Juergen Wiegel for contributing the photographs of Fig. 6 and for many valuable comments.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, The Institute of Life SciencesThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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