Research reveals that fungus from the Dead Sea can address environmental challenges.
Did you know that many of our products, medicines, catalysts, and other industrial products, are derived in some way from nature? As a civilization, humans face many challenges, including global climate change and its resulting negative effects. Confronting these challenges will take more than human ingenuity alone. Here also earth’s natural resources can be of great use. Scientists from Israel, Germany, and the United States have made some interesting discoveries by studying fungus from the Dead Sea.
Life in the Dead Sea
Extreme organisms are a relatively untapped potential source of useful molecules. Extremophiles are organisms that can survive and even thrive in unimaginably harsh conditions. The Dead Sea contains a select group of resilient microorganisms. This is why an international group of scientists began looking toward this famous body of water. Some of these organisms survive by staying dormant under normal conditions, only becoming active when chance happens to lower the extreme salinity of the surrounding waters, while others are fine to live in normal Dead Sea conditions.
Salt tolerance genes and gene networks
One such organism that the scientists studied is the filamentous fungus Eurotium rubrum. They looked at its genome in order to find the genes that endowed it with the ability to survive such salty conditions. In particular they looked at the transcriptome, the fraction of the genome that actually encodes for proteins within the cell. One interesting discovery was a high prevalence of two particular amino acids that are acidic in nature. Even though they have acid in their name, not all amino acids are actually acidic, many are neutral and even alkaline. Analysis of two closely related genomes revealed the same pattern, suggesting that this is common in salt tolerant organisms.
Salt tolerant organisms against climate change
The hope is to one day apply this knowledge to biotechnology related to crops. Climate change is causing increased desertification and increased salinity in some parts of the world. Being able to engineer crops to thrive in high salinity conditions could be vital to agriculture in the near future.
Dead Sea organisms and biofuel development
While that is important, it’s not the only trick that this fungus may reveal. The researchers were also interested in discovering new enzymes for the breakdown of biomass into fuels. Although many organisms contain these enzymes, there is particular interest in a Dead Sea fungus because of new methods for biomass processing. Instead of using volatile organic solvents to initially break down biomass, many are looking to safer organic salts. An enzyme that can naturally tolerate these salts could be of great use to biofuel development.
Kis-Papo, T., Weig, A., Riley, R., Peršoh, D., Salamov, A., Sun, H., Lipzen, A., Wasser, S., Rambold, G., Grigoriev, I., & Nevo, E. (2014). Genomic adaptations of the halophilic Dead Sea filamentous fungus Eurotium rubrum Nature Communications, 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4745
Biofuel, climate change, Dead Sea, biotechnology, agriculture, salt tolerance, organisms, extremophiles, Eurotium rubrum, fungus