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  • A typical teaspoon of agricultural soil contains more than a billion bacteria of several thousand

  • different species, a million other single-cell organisms, a million individual fungi, and

  • hundreds of larger creatures.

  • This biodiversity plays a key role in the ability of soil to support plant life, including

  • agricultural crops.

  • Earthworms are the most important of the easily visible creatures, acting as the chief engineers

  • of soil structure and providing material for finer decomposition by their microbial colleagues.

  • Worms are also an indicator of soil health, being affected by matters such as acidity,

  • waterlogging, and compaction.

  • They're easy to identify and count, but with soil microbes, that task has been far

  • harder.

  • However, new molecular fingerprinting technology known as metagenomics is coming to the rescue.

  • Scientists can take a soil sample and sequence all the DNA in it. Then, powerful computer

  • programs then try to sort out the various contributing organisms.

  • The first attempt to build a global atlas of soil microbes mapped around 25,000 types

  • of bacteria.

  • At a biological level below bacteria, are the viruses that infect them, known as phages,

  • but their impact on microbial activity in soil is still almost entirely unknown.

  • Another challenge is determining the best way for farmers to use this new soil composition

  • information.

  • For example, one of the biggest changes in European arable farming recently has been

  • to drill seeds directly into the soil without tilling or ploughing.

  • Minimum tillage increases biodiversity in the upper layer as organic material builds

  • up, but it's still not certain if this improves crop productivity or its ability to store

  • carbon.

  • The knowledge may still be a little muddy, but as soil quality and maintenance rises

  • up the political and environmental agenda, so will the sophistication of methods to assess

  • the impact of its myriad crucial inhabitants.

A typical teaspoon of agricultural soil contains more than a billion bacteria of several thousand

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B2 US FinancialTimes soil bacteria microbial biodiversity agricultural

Metagenomics: mapping the mysteries of soil | FT Food Revolution

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    joey joey posted on 2021/09/21
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