Dead Sea provides living laboratory for new Porter Institute

Institute will serve as hub for researchers from Israel, region and world studying life under extreme conditions
04 December 2016

There’s one thing that’s not dead about the Dead Sea: The world’s interest in it. 


From NASA’s fascination with its hardy, salt-tolerant bacteria to scientists’ surprise at its medicinal potential, the Dead Sea environment could provide a wealth of discovery. Now, to mine this unique region’s potential, Tel Aviv University has joined with the Tamar Regional Council, the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, the Porter Foundation, ICA Foundation and the Ministry of Regional Cooperation to establish the new Porter Dead Sea Research Institute for Life under Extreme Conditions. The institute is housed in a heritage building at the foot of the historic site of Masada. 

The project capitalizes on TAU’s strong showing in Dead Sea studies. According to Dr. Mira Marcus-Kalish, TAU Director of International Scientific Relations and a lead initiator of the institute, TAU researchers already work in some 30 fields related to the Dead Sea. These include the environment, health, geology, zoology, meteorology, archeology, religion and more. 


The new institute is expected to attract hundreds of Israeli and international scientists, including from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, for collaborative projects.


Salty, dry and hot

At 429 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest spot on Earth. It is the saltiest body of water on the planet and receives only 2 inches of rainfall annually. Yet remarkably, bacteria and fungi subsist under the super saline and arid conditions, making the Dead Sea an ideal location for researching life under extreme conditions. This emerging field is already attracting millions of dollars of investment by NASA. 


Prof. Marcus-Kalish stressed the wide variety of medical publications on the Dead Sea, many by TAU faculty members. “While Dead Sea mud is world-famous for its efficacy against skin diseases, the mineral-rich mud and water has also been found to ease the pain of arthritis and to retard aging. The air, which has 6% more oxygen and is allergen-free, could ease the symptoms and improve quality of life of asthma, lung and heart patients,” she said at the inauguration ceremony of the Institute.


TAU President Joseph Klafter said, "We hope that the studies carried out within the framework of the Porter Institute will bear fruit in the fields of basic and applied research that will benefit the environment and people in Israel. We expect the Institute to attract wide interest all over the world, at a time when it has to face extreme phenomena in many areas.” 


Head of the Tamar Regional Council Dov Litwinoff said, "future studies here will provide answers to many questions about the wonders of the area we live in and will attract top class researchers who will contribute to this field.”

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