Strategies of adaptation of microorganisms of the three domains of life to high salt concentrations

Nina Gunde-Cimerman*, Ana Plemenitaš, Aharon Oren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

304 Scopus citations


Hypersaline environments with salt concentrations up to NaCl saturation are inhabited by a great diversity of microorganisms belonging to the three domains of life. They all must cope with the low water activity of their environment, but different strategies exist to provide osmotic balance of the cells' cytoplasm with the salinity of the medium. One option used by many halophilic Archaea and a few representatives of the Bacteria is to accumulate salts, mainly KCl and to adapt the entire intracellular machinery to function in the presence of molar concentrations of salts. A more widespread option is the synthesis or accumulation of organic osmotic, so-called compatible solutes. Here, we review the mechanisms of osmotic adaptation in a number of model organisms, including the KCl accumulating Halobacterium salinarum (Archaea) and Salinibacter ruber (Bacteria), Halomonas elongata as a representative of the Bacteria that synthesize organic osmotic solutes, eukaryotic microorganisms including the unicellular green alga Dunaliella salina and the black yeasts Hortaea werneckii and the basidiomycetous Wallemia ichthyophaga, which use glycerol and other compatible solutes. The strategies used by these model organisms and by additional halophilic microorganisms presented are then compared to obtain an integrative picture of the adaptations to life at high salt concentrations in the microbial world.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)353-375
Number of pages23
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2018

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  • Compatible solutes
  • Diversity
  • Halophilic
  • Halotolerant
  • Hypersaline ecosystems
  • Ion metabolism


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