On average, the Great Salt Lake is four times saltier than the ocean and also has heavy metals, high concentrations of sulfur and petroleum seeps. In spite of all this, the lake is the saltiest body of water to support life. The lake hosts brine shrimp, algae and a diverse array of microbes, not to mention the roughly 5 million birds that migrate there annually. The secret to these microbes’ ability to survive under such harsh conditions might be revealed in their genes. Researchers expect the genetic data will provide insight into how the microorganisms tolerate pollutants such as sulfur and detoxify pollutants such as sulfur and heavy metals like mercury. The information could then be used to develop bioremediation techniques. Researchers also expect that sequencing microorganisms sampled from various sections of the lake will give them an idea of just how many different microbes reside in the Great Salt Lake, and how they capture carbon.
Principal Investigators: Bart Weimer (Utah State University)
Program: CSP 2009