Understanding the Millions of Microbes Living in the Soil
There are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. In fact, soils host a quarter of our planet’s biological diversity. We know these microorganisms play an important role in agriculture, influencing plant health, the uptake and use of nutrients by crops, and the release of greenhouse gases. But gaining a better understanding of the role of soil microorganisms is crucial to ensuring we can produce enough food, fuel, feed and fibre to support a growing global population.
The challenge is that studying diversity below ground is difficult since over 99 per cent of the microorganisms in the soil cannot be grown in a laboratory. As Canada Research Chair in Environmental Microbiology of Agro-Ecosystems, Dr. Kari Dunfield is trying to increase our understanding of these microorganisms and the important role they play.
Using DNA and RNA extracted from the soil, Dunfield and her research team are using cutting-edge molecular methods to detect and study the microorganisms living in the soil and associated with plants. Her research brings together several disciplines, including microbiology, biochemistry, ecology and soil science, to understand how soil organisms influence the quantity and quality of food production. It is also shedding light on how they regulate key soil ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient cycling.
Dunfield’s goal is to improve our understanding of the soil ecosystem in order to identify sustainable farming practices that will ensure we have the levels of agricultural production we need to meet society’s demands while minimizing the impact on soil, air, water quality and human health.