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Why is Testing for Soil Microbes Important?

Submitted by on August 16, 2020 – 8:15 amNo Comment
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Special to Road Trips for Gardeners
By Soil Science Society of America

Soil microbes like bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes are important for many reasons. The Soil Science Society of America’s (SSSA) Soils Matter Blog for August 1, 2020, explains all the benefits these microbes provide.

According to blogger Dwarika Bhattarai, “While soil microbes get energy from carbon present in soil, they also contribute to soil health. Bacteria have multiple functions such as decomposition of complex organic residues from plants or animals. They help break up these ‘leftovers’ into simpler plant-available forms. Some microbes that live in the root nodules of legumes, rhizobia, pull nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants. Other microbes convert organic nitrogen to plant available nitrate and ammonium forms.”

Actinomycetes are spore-forming bacteria. Not only are they responsible for producing the earthy smell of soil, they also decompose organic matter, inhibit the growth of plant pathogens in the root zones of plants, and they improve plant nutrient availability.

“Similarly, fungi help to decompose organic molecules to simpler molecules,” says Bhattarai. “Mycorrhizal fungi colonize plant roots and help transform phosphorus into a plant-usable form, and transport nutrients to the plant.”

Just like humans have skin to protect us from “outsiders,” soil microbes have a cell membrane. The membrane is made up of proteins and fatty acids, therefore you can detect microbes by measuring the fatty acid profile in soil.

The photo (above, left) shows the distinct layers of soil and fatty acids after centrifugation in a test tube. This work is done to measure fatty acids in fresh soil samples that can provide important information regarding soil microbial communities. Credit: Dwarika Bhattarai

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

(Photo courtesy of Soil Science Society of America)

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