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Life (Basel). 2015 Nov 12;5(4):1587-609. doi: 10.3390/life5041587.

Starvation-Survival in Haloarchaea.

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Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY, USA.
Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY, USA.
Binghamton University, PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY, USA.


Recent studies claiming to revive ancient microorganisms trapped in fluid inclusions in halite have warranted an investigation of long-term microbial persistence. While starvation-survival is widely reported for bacteria, it is less well known for halophilic archaea-microorganisms likely to be trapped in ancient salt crystals. To better understand microbial survival in fluid inclusions in ancient evaporites, laboratory experiments were designed to simulate growth of halophilic archaea under media-rich conditions, complete nutrient deprivation, and a controlled substrate condition (glycerol-rich) and record their responses. Haloarchaea used for this work included Hbt. salinarum and isolate DV582A-1 (genus Haloterrigena) sub-cultured from 34 kyear Death Valley salt. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 reacted to nutrient limitation with morphological and population changes. Starved populations increased and most cells converted from rods to small cocci within 56 days of nutrient deprivation. The exact timing of starvation adaptations and the physical transformations differed between species, populations of the same species, and cells of the same population. This is the first study to report the timing of starvation strategies for Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1. The morphological states in these experiments may allow differentiation between cells trapped with adequate nutrients (represented here by early stages in nutrient-rich media) from cells trapped without nutrients (represented here by experimental starvation) in ancient salt. The hypothesis that glycerol, leaked from Dunaliella, provides nutrients for the survival of haloarchaea trapped in fluid inclusions in ancient halite, is also tested. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 were exposed to a mixture of lysed and intact Dunaliella for 56 days. The ability of these organisms to utilize glycerol from Dunaliella cells was assessed by documenting population growth, cell length, and cell morphology. Hbt. salinarum and DV582A-1 experienced size reductions and shape transitions from rods to cocci. In the short-term, these trends more closely resembled the response of these organisms to starvation conditions than to nutrient-rich media. Results from this experiment reproduced the physical state of cells (small cocci) in ancient halite where prokaryotes co-exist with single-celled algae. We conclude that glycerol is not the limiting factor in the survival of haloarchaea for thousands of years in fluid inclusions in halite.


Dunaliella; algae; fluid inclusions; halite; haloarchaea; starvation-survival

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