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Reducing greenhouse gases with the help of soil microbes

Newly published research into soil microbes shows how, eventually, farmers might reduce greenhouse gas production through the way they manage their soils. The work, by an EU wide consortium including researchers from Scotland’s Rural College, shows how effectively a newly discovered group of soil microbes breaks down Nitrous Oxide, a major contributor to global warming and a gas blamed for depleting the ozone layer. It suggests that if their growth could be encouraged soils could make a greater contribution to addressing climate change.

The research, published in the respected journal Nature Climate Change, was led by the INRA agroecology centre in France. The consortium involved scientists from the Irish agriculture and food development authority, Teagasc, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and from Scotland, the James Hutton Institute and SRUC.

“Compared with what we know about Carbon Dioxide and Methane we don’t understand enough how different soil microorganisms create Nitrous Oxide or break it down,” says SRUC Soil Ecologist, Professor Bryan Griffiths. “This work gives us greater knowledge about the bugs which reduce harmful Nitrous Oxide to useful Nitrogen and Oxygen. We have also discovered that the effect of this denitrification does not depend on one simple soil factor like drainage or pH but relies on the abundance of these microbes. The next step will be to look at the factors which control that abundance and activity.”

There are literally billions of different microorganisms in soils. Instead of looking for particular individual species the researchers used DNA analysis to look for the genes linked to denitrification. Their results, from a survey of 47 different soils across Europe, represent many species of microorganism all of which share this ability to reduce Nitrous Oxide.

According to Bryan Griffiths: “Nitrous Oxide contributes some 6 per cent to global warming and has a major effect on the ozone layer. Around 70 per cent of the world’s Nitrous Oxide comes from various land-based ecosystems and 60 per cent of that can be attributed to microbial processes in agriculture. If we can find ways of altering the balance so that there are larger populations of these Nitrous Oxide reducing microbes, it will help agriculture reduce what we call its environmental footprint.”

For a full version of the Research paper entitled Recently identified microbial guild mediates soil N2O sink capacity, use the following link – http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2301

To contact Professor Griffiths email: bryan.griffiths@sruc.ac.uk or call 07879 43806.

 

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