6 Ways Microbes Fight Climate Change
by Jamie Nix on 13/Feb/23
As humans try to combat the effects of climate change, it may be time to look back to microbes as our crucial solution to global warming. Microbes are responsible for many historical environmental changes that shaped the earth. These tiny generators of life have survived for billions of years, and further research may hold the answers we have been looking for all along.
Microbes, including bacteria and fungi, are crucial to maintaining healthy soil and combating climate change. Here are six ways that soil microbes help fight global warming.
Soil microbes are essential to carbon sequestration. Certain bacteria and algae convert carbon dioxide into organic matter, which is then stored in the soil. This helps remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of global warming.
Some of the key soil microbes involved in carbon sequestration include:
- Mycorrhizal fungi: These fungi form mutualistic relationships with plant roots, helping plants to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. They also play a role in carbon sequestration by increasing the amount of carbon stored in the soil.
- Actinobacteria: These bacteria are known to decompose plant litter and other organic matter, releasing carbon dioxide in the process. They also play a role in carbon sequestration by producing organic compounds that help to stabilize soil organic matter.
- Rhizobia: These bacteria form symbiotic relationships with legume plants, fixing nitrogen from the air and making it available to the plant. This process also helps to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil.
- Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: These fungi form symbiotic relationships with a wide range of plant species, and they play a key role in carbon sequestration by increasing the amount of carbon stored in the soil.
- Proteobacteria: These bacteria play a role in decomposing plant litter and other organic matter, releasing carbon dioxide. However, they can also play a role in carbon sequestration by producing compounds that help to stabilize soil organic matter.
Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for plant growth, but it must be in the proper form for plants to use it. Soil microbes play a critical role in the nutrient cycling process. They break down organic matter, such as dead plants and animals, and release essential nutrients into the soil. These nutrients can then be taken up by plants and used for growth and development.
For example, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, such as Rhizobium, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use, such as ammonia or nitrite. This process, called nitrogen fixation, is essential for the growth of many plants, as nitrogen is a critical component of proteins and other cellular structures.
Here are some of the key microbes involved in the nitrogen cycle:
- Nitrogen-fixing bacteria: These bacteria, such as Rhizobia and Azotobacter, can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use. This process, called nitrogen fixation, is critical for plants' growth and the ecosystem's health.
- Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria: These bacteria, such as Nitrosomonas and Nitrosococcus, convert ammonia into nitrite, which is an intermediate form of nitrogen.
- Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria: These bacteria, such as Nitrobacter, convert nitrite into nitrate, which is another intermediate form of nitrogen.
- Denitrifying bacteria: These bacteria, such as Pseudomonas and Paracoccus, convert nitrate back into nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere.
Soil microbes play a critical role in supporting plant growth. They do this in many ways, including breaking down organic matter, providing nutrients, enhancing root development, and protecting against disease.
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Other bacteria and fungi help break down complex organic molecules, such as cellulose and lignin, into simpler compounds that plants can use. This process, known as decomposition, releases various nutrients, including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur, back into the soil. Soil microbes also produce many vitamins and other growth-promoting compounds that plants take up. For example, bacteria in the soil produce vitamin B12, which is essential for the growth and development of plants.
Some soil microbes, such as mycorrhizal fungi, form symbiotic relationships with plant roots. These fungi help to improve the absorption of water and nutrients by the plant roots, leading to enhanced growth and development. Soil microbes can also help to protect plants against diseases. For example, certain bacteria produce antibiotics that can kill or inhibit the growth of pathogenic microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, that cause plant diseases.
Nutrient cycling assists the soil. Also, to nitrogen, soil microbes help cycle other essential nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, making them available for plant growth. This process, known as nutrient cycling, helps maintain the health and fertility of the soil.
Here are some of the key microbes involved in nutrient cycling:
- Decomposers: These microbes, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organic matter and recycle its nutrients back into the soil.
- Phosphorus-solubilizing bacteria: These bacteria, such as Bacillus and Pseudomonas, can recycle phosphorus from insoluble sources, making it available for plants and other organisms.
- Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria: These bacteria, such as Thiobacillus and Beggiatoa, play a crucial role in the sulfur cycle by oxidizing sulfur compounds, making sulfur available for other organisms in the ecosystem.
Soil Pollution Reduction
Soil microbes can reduce soil pollution. Many industrial processes and consumer products release harmful chemicals into the environment, contaminating the soil. But some soil microbes can break down these pollutants, helping to clean up contaminated soil and protect the ecosystem.
When waste breaks down, it releases methane, another potent greenhouse gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and can negatively impact carbon sequestration efforts.
Some microbes, particularly certain types of archaea and bacteria, are involved in producing methane. One example of this is Methanogenic archaea. These microbes are responsible for most methane production in anaerobic environments, such as wetlands, rice paddies, and the digestive tracts of ruminants. They produce methane as a byproduct of their metabolic activities, which involve breaking down organic matter.
The production of methane by these microbes can release significant amounts of the gas into the atmosphere, which can negatively impact the climate and carbon sequestration efforts. However, it is important to note that not all microbes involved in producing methane are harmful. Some microbes, such as those involved in the production of biogas, can be harnessed to produce renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Microbes, such as methanotrophic bacteria, can break down methane before it can escape into the atmosphere. This process not only reduces methane emissions but also creates a source of clean energy.
Soil Microbiome & Soil Health Testing
A healthy soil microbiome is essential for maintaining soil health and promoting sustainable agriculture. Microbes play a crucial role in supporting a healthy soil microbiome in several ways:
- Decomposition: Microbes, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organic matter and recycle its nutrients back into the soil, supporting the growth of plants and other organisms.
- Nutrient cycling: Microbes play a key role in the cycling of essential elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur, through the ecosystem. This helps to maintain the balance of nutrients in the soil and makes them available to plants and other organisms.
- Soil structure: Microbes, such as mycorrhizal fungi, can help improve the soil's structure by forming networks of hyphae that bind soil particles together. This can help improve water retention, reduce erosion, and increase the soil's overall health.
- Disease suppression: Microbes can help to suppress diseases in plants by competing with pathogens for resources, producing antibiotics, and supporting the growth of healthy roots.
- Pest control: Microbes can play a role in controlling pests by producing toxins that are toxic to insects and other pests and by supporting the growth of plants that are resistant to pests.
Biological soil testing is vital to understand the soil's health and the microbiome's role in crop production. Biome Makers offers biological soil testing called BeCrop Test. BeCrop Test is practical for growers because this particular biological soil analysis shows blocked nutrient pathways, microbe diversity, fungi-to-bacteria ratios, disease risk detection, and insights into hormone production and stress adaptation. With these insights, growers can also apply more precise fertilizers or biologicals to diagnose specific problems, saving time and money and increasing crop yield and quality.
In conclusion, soil microbes play a crucial role in the fight against climate change, and their diversity and functions are essential to maintaining healthy soil and mitigating the impacts of global warming. From promoting carbon sequestration and assisting in the nitrogen cycle, to cleaning up pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil microbes are at the forefront of sustainable agriculture and environmental protection.
However, it is important to understand that not all microbes positively impact the environment, and some may even contribute to climate change. This highlights the critical importance of understanding the diversity of soil microbes and their functions and using this information to make informed agronomic decisions.
Biological soil testing provides valuable insights into the microbial communities in the soil and is a valuable tool for farmers who are committed to promoting sustainable agriculture and mitigating the impacts of climate change. In the end, soil microbes are key players in the fight against global warming, and it is essential that we recognize their significance and harness their potential to protect the environment and ensure a sustainable future.
Originally published December 20th, 2022, Updated February 13th, 2023.