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Marine microbiology

Biotechnology and microbial diversity of Ethiopian soda lakes

In October this year Lise Øvreås arranged a symposium together with Associate professor Amare Gessese at Addis Ababa University.

For this symposium 15 internationally recognized scientists, within the field of microbial ecology were invited. By doing this we envisage that the workshop would give us the opportunity to bring together scientists from different countries working in the field and share experiences. It could also have an impact in increasing awareness of policy makers in Ethiopia about the potential of the alkaline soda lakes as sources of unique genetic resource and the danger posed on such valuable ecosystems from different human activities.

The project, which started in 2007, is now in its final year. 16 master students and 3 PhD students have worked on the project and the team has run several training programmes for technical personnel in Ethiopia. The project has begun the mammoth task of forming an inventory of microbial life in the Ethiopian alkaline soda lakes and their surrounding environments.

These unique ecosystems having the highest primary productivity ever recorded for a natural habitat. Because of their high productivity and pH, and salinity gradients the lakes are thought to support a tremendous variety of (halo) alkaliphilic microorganisms.

This unique and valuable microbial genetic resource has enormous potential, especially in biotechnology. It is however threatened because of changes in the chemistry of lakes mainly caused by human activities. New laboratory facilities have been created in the Department of Biology, Addis Ababa University to ensure that Ethiopian scientists have the facilities they need to document, monitor and preserve this resource for future generations.

The research project is supported by the Norwegian Programme for Development, Research and Education (NUFU) in recognition of the outstanding potential of this environment and the outstanding strategic importance of sustained and consequential research collaboration between academic institutions in Africa and the rest of the world.

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