Halotolerance

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Halotolerance is the adaptation of living organisms to conditions of high salinity.[1] Halotolerant species tend to live in areas such as hypersaline lakes, coastal dunes, saline deserts, salt marshes, and inland salt seas and springs. Halophiles are a group of bacteria that live in highly saline environments, and indeed in many cases require the salinity to survive. Halophytes are salt-tolerant higher plants.

Contents

Applications

Fields of scientific research relevant to halotolerance include biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, physiology, ecology, and genetics.

An understanding of halotolerance can be applicable to areas such as arid-zone agriculture, xeriscaping, aquaculture (of fish or algae), bioproduction of desirable compounds (such as phycobiliproteins or carotenoids) using seawater to support growth, or remediation of salt-affected soils. In addition, many environmental stressors involve or induce osmotic changes, so knowledge gained about halotolerance can also be relevant to understanding tolerance to extremes in moisture or temperature.

Goals of studying halotolerance include increasing the agricultural productivity of lands affected by soil salination or where only saline water is available. Conventional agricultural species could be made more halotolerant by gene transfer from naturally halotolerant species (by conventional breeding or genetic engineering) or by applying treatments developed from an understanding of the mechanisms of halotolerance. In addition, naturally halotolerant plants or microorganisms could be developed into useful agricultural crops or fermentation organisms.

Cellular functions

Tolerance of high salt conditions can be obtained through several routes. High levels of salt entering the plant can trigger ionic imbalances which cause complications in respiration and photosynthesis, leading to reduced rates of growth, injury and death in severe cases. To be considered tolerant of saline conditions, the protoplast must show methods of balancing the toxic and osmotic effects of the increased salt concentrations. Halophytic vascular plants can survive on soils with salt concentrations around 6%, or up to 20% in extreme cases. Tolerance of such conditions is reached through the use of stress proteins and compatible cytoplasm osmotic solutes.

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