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Can soil microbes help improve climate predictions?

Researchers have developed a model that uses genetic information from soil microbes to better understand how they efficiently store carbon

The new climate model could enhance agricultural strategies to store carbon in the soil which can support plant growth and climate change mitigation.
The new climate model could enhance agricultural strategies to store carbon in the soil which can support plant growth and climate change mitigation. (Pexels)

Climate models are important for addressing climate change and exploring potential solutions. However, soil microbes aren’t well-represented in these models even though they play an important role through soil carbon sequestration which affects the carbon cycle. 

Now, in a new study, researchers have developed a model that uses genetic information from soil microbes to better understand how they store carbon.

The new model, developed by researchers from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), shows the advantage of collecting the genetic information of microorganisms directly from soil. 

According to the researchers, genome information enables them to create better climate models that can predict how various plant types, crops, or even specific cultivars can work with soil microbes to better capture carbon. This collaboration can improve soil health, the lab’s press statement explains.

Also read: Carbon removal is where green investment should go

The findings, published recently in the journal Nature Microbiology, said that the model could also enhance agricultural strategies to store carbon in the soil which can support plant growth and climate change mitigation. 

"Our research demonstrates the advantage of assembling the genetic information of microorganisms directly from soil. Previously, we only had information about a small number of microbes studied in the lab," lead author Gianna Marschmann said in the statement.

Soil microbes enable plants to access soil nutrients and prevent drought, disease, and pests, the statement adds. It’s important to understand their effect on the carbon cycle because they play a key role in determining the amount of carbon stored in soil or released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide during decomposition.

The researchers explain in the statement that by building their own bodies from that carbon, “microbes can stabilize (or store) it in the soil, and influence how much, and for how long carbon remains stored belowground.”

Interestingly, one gram of soil contains up to 10 billion microorganisms and thousands of different species. These massive number of species has not been studied in the laboratory. To address this, the scientists used genome information directly to build a model that can be customised to any ecosystem according to the requirement, from California's grasslands to permafrost in the Arctic, the statement elaborated.

The researchers focused on microbes living around plant roots as they hold up to 30-40% of Earth's carbon stored in soils, the statement adds. According to them, this new knowledge could lead to new strategies for “preserving valuable carbon in the soil to support biodiversity and plant growth at scales feasible to measure the impact.”

Also read: How regenerative farmers are rewilding their land

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