Plants are part of a rich ecosystem that comprises numerous and diverse microorganisms that live in the soil. It’s long been known that some of these microbes, like certain types of fungi or nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria, play an important role in crop health and yield by improving mineral nutrition. However, it’s only been recently that researchers have begun to uncover the full extent of these organisms’ impact and the role they could play in replacing synthetic agricultural inputs.
Considering the challenges the agricultural ecosystem faces, this research is of vital importance. As we progress further into the 21st century, it’s crucial that we find solutions to produce nutritious food for a growing world population. Considering this is increasing at a rate of 1.14% per year and set to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, it is an urgent project. Equally, the climate crisis is spurring demand for biofuels, which need to be cultivated in sufficient quantities without impacting food production.
However, arable soils have been degraded through erosion and exhaustive cultivation for decades. Moreover, substantial amounts of fertilizer nutrients are not taken up by crops, casting doubt over their agricultural and financial worth. Therefore, a central challenge in agriculture is to better understand how soil’s resident microbial communities can deliver nutrients to crops more efficiently with minimal losses to the environment, and indeed, a farm’s bottom line.
We seek to lay out a foundation of how the soil microbiome affects plant nutrient uptake. We’ll introduce some of the key functions of the different types of soil compounds and how they affect plant nutrition or ‘nutrition pathways’, and also briefly explain how microbes can impact these functions. Finally, we outline Biome Maker’s innovative soil analysis technique and explain how it’s useful for monitoring soil nutrient levels.