Microbial and chemical characterization of underwater fresh water springs in the dead sea

Danny Ionescu*, Christian Siebert, Lubos Polerecky, Yaniv Y. Munwes, Christian Lott, Stefan Häusler, Mina Bižić-Ionescu, Christian Quast, Jörg Peplies, Frank Oliver Glöckner, Alban Ramette, Tino Rödiger, Thorsten Dittmar, Aharon Oren, Stefan Geyer, Hans Joachim Stärk, Martin Sauter, Tobias Licha, Jonathan B. Laronne, Dirk de Beer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Due to its extreme salinity and high Mg concentration the Dead Sea is characterized by a very low density of cells most of which are Archaea. We discovered several underwater fresh to brackish water springs in the Dead Sea harboring dense microbial communities. We provide the first characterization of these communities, discuss their possible origin, hydrochemical environment, energetic resources and the putative biogeochemical pathways they are mediating. Pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and community fingerprinting methods showed that the spring community originates from the Dead Sea sediments and not from the aquifer. Furthermore, it suggested that there is a dense Archaeal community in the shoreline pore water of the lake. Sequences of bacterial sulfate reducers, nitrifiers iron oxidizers and iron reducers were identified as well. Analysis of white and green biofilms suggested that sulfide oxidation through chemolitotrophy and phototrophy is highly significant. Hyperspectral analysis showed a tight association between abundant green sulfur bacteria and cyanobacteria in the green biofilms. Together, our findings show that the Dead Sea floor harbors diverse microbial communities, part of which is not known from other hypersaline environments. Analysis of the water's chemistry shows evidence of microbial activity along the path and suggests that the springs supply nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter to the microbial communities in the Dead Sea. The underwater springs are a newly recognized water source for the Dead Sea. Their input of microorganisms and nutrients needs to be considered in the assessment of possible impact of dilution events of the lake surface waters, such as those that will occur in the future due to the intended establishment of the Red Sea-Dead Sea water conduit.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere38319
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - 5 Jun 2012


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