Listen: Harnessing soil microbiomics for agricultural production

A single gram of soil contains seven billion microorganisms, as many as there are people on Earth – the soil under our feet is a complex world unto itself with wide-ranging implications for our lives, and especially for how we grow our food.

Microorganisms have important positive and negative effects on agricultural production. Soil microbes also play broader, but equally crucial roles in agriculture.

They establish and maintain soil structure, provide nutrients for crop growth, and decompose dead plants and animals and pollutants. They also have detrimental economic and environmental effects, for example, generating greenhouse gases and significantly reducing fertiliser use efficiency. These functions are under-appreciated, in part because microbes are ‘invisible’.

Revolutionary technical and theoretical advances have dramatically increased our ability to study these microbes, demonstrating previously unsuspected diversity and important soil functions for newly discovered, novel microbial groups.

The challenge now is to harness this leap in knowledge to directly benefit agricultural production. How great is this potential, what are the limitations, and how can the potential be realised?

In this seminar, “Harnessing soil microbiomics for agricultural production: transforming hype and hope into reality,” Professor James I Prosser discusses the positive and negative effects of micro-organisms on agricultural production, from establishing and maintaining soil structure, to providing nutrients for crop growth and assisting with the decomposition of dead plants, animals and pollutants.

Left to right: Professor Herbert Kronzucker, acting Head of the School of Agriculture and Food Professor Mohan Singh, Professor James Prosser and Professor of Molecular Soil Ecology Jim He. Photo: Stuart Winthrope

Professor Prosser visited the University as a guest of Professor of Molecular Soil Ecology Jim He.

Professor Prosser is the Chair in Molecular and Cell Biology at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen. He is a world authority of soil microbiology and nitrification. His research utilises a range of molecular and traditional techniques applied to laboratory, microcosm, field systems to investigate and determine the microbial processes and functions in terrestrial ecosystems.

He has made significant contributions to our understanding of the diversity and ecosystem function of microorganisms in natural environments. A major focus of his research has been the ecology of soil ammonia oxidising bacteria and archaea, which significantly reduce the efficiency of nitrogen fertilisers and generate greenhouse gases.

His research has determined links between the remarkably high diversity of soil ammonia oxidisers and their ecosystem function and he has demonstrated niche specialisation and differentiation in bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidisers. Professor Prosser is Fellow of American Academy of Microbiology and Fellow of the Royal Society. He has published over 260 journal papers including many papers in Nature and Science. His publications are widely cited (over 16,000 times) with an h-index of 72.

Banner image: Professor James Prosser presents to School of Agriculture and Food staff, students and guests. Photo and recording: Stuart Winthrope.