A new study delves into hypersaline lakes in Xinjiang, China, exploring the genetic and metabolic diversity of microbial communities termed “microbial dark matter”. 


Source: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Lake Enriquillo, a hypersaline lake in the Dominican Republic.

Hypersaline lake ecosystems, characterized by extreme salinity, harbor unique microorganisms with largely unexplored biosynthesis and biodegradation capabilities. The research seeks to uncover novel biological compounds and pathways, potentially revolutionizing biotechnology, medicine, and environmental remediation by tapping into the untapped potential of these extremophiles.

The study, published in Volume 20 of the journal Environmental Science and Ecotechnology, explores the largely unknown metabolic capabilities of unclassified microbial species in extreme environments, particularly hypersaline lakes, and their potential applications in biotechnology, medicine, and environmental remediation.

Salt-rich lakes

In this detailed study, researchers embarked on a scientific adventure to the salt-rich lakes of Xinjiang, China, aiming to explore the largely unknown world of microbial dark matters. These are microbes that thrive in environments with high levels of salt, which have not been classified due to their elusive nature.

Utilizing advanced DNA sequencing techniques, the team catalogued an astonishing variety of more than 3,000 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from 82 different families, most of which are new to science. They unearthed more than 9,000 unique biosynthesis gene clusters, 94% of which are novel, indicating a vast, untapped potential for new biological discoveries.

This research not only expands our knowledge of life in extreme conditions but also opens exciting possibilities for new technologies and medical breakthroughs, leveraging the untapped resources of these unique microbial communities.


  • More than 3,000 MAGs were obtained from hypersaline lakes that enriched genomic resources.
  • Microbial communities were significantly diversified across four hypersaline lakes.
  • The team identified 8000+ potential biosynthetic gene clusters in uncultured microbes.
  • The team uncovered biodegradation potential in several microbial dark matter lineages.

Ke Yu, the study’s lead researcher, emphasized the significance of these discoveries for biotechnology and environmental remediation, highlighting the untapped potential of microbial dark matters in extreme environments.

The findings open new avenues for biotechnological innovation, emphasizing the untapped potential of microbial diversity in extreme environments. The discovery of novel biosynthesis pathways and biodegradation capabilities in these microbial communities can have far-reaching implications for developing new drugs, biotechnological processes, and environmental remediation methods.