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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Up until now there has been extensive research into the plants and animals that comprise the planet’s extensive range of ecosystems, however there has been comparatively little research into the role of the thousands of tiny microorganisms that live within every gram of soil.

The research, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), outlines the fact that microorganisms within the soil have vital roles in regulating soil fertility, the health of plants and the cycling of carbon and nitrogen.

The team of Ecologists from the Brigham Young University and the University of Colorado took soil samples from sixteen worldwide locations ranging from deserts to Antarctica. They extracted the DNA from microbes living within the soil and sequenced it to produce of a unique profile of microbial life.

They found that the genetic material extracted from soil samples taken from different environments was hugely variable. For example, DNA extracted from microbes living in desert soils had more genes associated with dormancy and less genes associated with antibiotic resistance than their Antarctic counterparts.

They explain that the obvious application for this kind of research is in agricultural ecosystems. Through understanding the subtleties of microbial life within different environments we will be able to predict more accurately how different ecosystems will respond to climate change. Ultimately this gives us another string on our bow when it comes to developing strategies to minimise the impact of our rapidly changing climate.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1215210110

Written by Nicola Hodson.