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Summary

The Dead Sea is a unique hypersaline ecosystem with near toxic magnesium levels (∼2 M), dominance of divalent cations and a slightly acidic pH. Previously, we reported a haloarchaeon related to Halobacterium salinarum to dominate in a microbial bloom that developed in 1992 in the upper water layers of the lake following massive freshwater runoff. Whether this clade also dominated an earlier bloom in 1980–1982 cannot be ascertained as no samples for cultivation-independent analysis were preserved. The presence of the light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin was reported in the 1980–1982 bloom of prokaryotes that had developed in the Dead Sea. To test the hypothesis that bacteriorhodopsin proton pumping may play a major role in determining what type of haloarchaea may dominate in specific bloom conditions, we compared rhodopsin genes recovered from Dead Sea biomass collected in different periods with genes coding for retinal proteins in isolated haloarchaea. Novel bacteriorhodopsin and sensory rhodopsin genes were found in samples collected in 2007 and 2010. The fact that no rhodopsin genes were recovered from samples collected during the 1992 bloom, which was dominated by a single species, suggests that different clades were present in the 1980–1982 and 1992 blooms, and that bacteriorhodopsin proton pumping did not necessarily play a determinative role in the dominance of specific halophiles in the blooms.