Extreme environments as a source of novel extremophiles and bioproducts
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a mosaic of ecosystems, harboring different terrestrial extreme environments, including volcanoes, Red Sea brines, deserts, and hot springs. These ecosystems are frequently exposed to extremely harsh conditions, such as significant temperature fluctuations, low humidity, high UV irradiation, high salinity, several combinations of extremes, and also, present very specific nutritional, chemical, physical and biological traits that certainly affect the microbial diversity and metabolic activities of the microbes thriving in these sites. Due to this, the terrestrial environments of KSA make it one of the most inhospitable and interesting places on Earth for research on extremophiles; some of these environments even resemble extraterrestrial ecosystems.
The microorganisms that flourish in these hostile environmental conditions are classified as extremophiles. Living in the extremes and poorly explored, extremophiles develop a range of adaptations for local survival, providing a unique perspective on the fundamental characteristics of biological processes and exhibiting a broad metabolic diversity and physiological capabilities. Because of the unique and versatile metabolism to thrive in the extreme conditions, extremophiles are considered candidates with high potential to offer sources for (novel) bioproducts, such as genes, metabolisms, enzymes, pigments, antimicrobial substances and surfactants, to be applied in a great diversity of biotechnology areas, including oil company, agriculture, food, pharmaceutical and medical industries.
Besides the biotechnological application of extremophiles, studying extreme microbes contribute to studies related to Astrobiology. KSA extreme environments can be tested as analogue extreme environment to extraterrestrial habitats and may provide significant insights regarding the life’s origin and evolution on Earth and beyond, to expand the knowledge into the boundaries of life and to prospect extraterrestrial life that may exist within the Solar System (e.g., Mars, Saturn and Jupiter icy moons) and other stellar systems.
In this context, KSA has a great potential to be one of the leaders in biotechnology of extremophiles and contribute significantly to astrobiology. Our laboratory is aligned with this ambitious goal, highlighting Saudi Arabian extreme environments as a reservoir of novel extremophilic microbes and exploiting the microbiomes thriving in harsh conditions as an innovative source of novel microbial products, and the application in biotechnology, evolution and life boundaries, and astrobiology.
Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Center Affiliation -
Red Sea Research Center
Field of Study -