Nav: Home

Researchers create first global atlas of the bacteria living in your dirt

January 18, 2018

What lives in your dirt? University of Colorado Boulder researchers are one step closer to finding out after compiling the first global atlas of soil bacterial communities and identifying a group of around 500 key species that are both common and abundant worldwide.

The new study, which appears today in the journal Science, narrows down the immense diversity of soil-dwelling bacteria to a "most wanted" list that will guide future research into the study and manipulation of microorganisms that affect nutrient cycling, soil fertility and other important ecological functions.

"With this research, we have started to open the black box and are gaining a better understanding of what microbes are living in our soils," said Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU Boulder.

Soil bacteria account for a large percentage of the planet's living biomass and facilitate key soil processes such as carbon cycling and nutrient availability. But despite being studied for decades, the microorganisms living in soil--even in the soil from an average North American backyard--are still poorly understood due to a species count numbering in the tens of thousands. Most species remain undescribed - they do not match existing genomic records and have not been successfully cultured in a lab.

"It is amazing how much we still don't know about even the most dominant microorganisms found in soil," said Noah Fierer, a CIRES Fellow and a co-author of the new research. "Many of them don't even have names yet."

To conduct the study, the researchers collected soil samples from 237 different locations across six continents and 18 countries, spanning an entire range of climates from deserts to grasslands to wetlands. Then, they used DNA sequencing to identify the types of bacteria found at each site and determine which species are shared across different types of soil.

The researchers found that just two percent of all bacterial taxa--or around 500 individual species--consistently accounted for almost half of the soil bacterial communities worldwide.

Having been identified as both dominant and ubiquitous, these predictably common bacteria can now be targeted for future study.

"Now that we have this list, we can really focus our research efforts to categorize these major groups and see where they are and what they do," said Fierer, who is also an associate professor in CU Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO).

Continued research into the identity and function of soil bacteria could potentially lead to agricultural applications in the future.

"Eventually, knowing more about these bacteria might allow us to improve soil health and fertility," said Delgado-Baquerizo, who carries a dual affiliation with the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain. "There's a lot that we can do now that we have some tractable information."
-end-
Additional co-authors of the new study include Angela Oliverio and Tess Brewer of CIRES; Alberto Benavent-González of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain); David Eldridge of the University of New South Wales (Australia); Richard Bardgett of the University of Manchester (England); Fernando Maestre of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos; and Brajesh Singh of Western Sydney University (Australia).

University of Colorado at Boulder

Related Bacteria Articles:

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Detecting bacteria in space
A new genomic approach provides a glimpse into the diverse bacterial ecosystem on the International Space Station.
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
Drug diversity in bacteria
Bacteria produce a cocktail of various bioactive natural products in order to survive in hostile environments with competing (micro)organisms.
Bacteria walk (a bit) like we do
EPFL biophysicists have been able to directly study the way bacteria move on surfaces, revealing a molecular machinery reminiscent of motor reflexes.
Using bacteria to create a water filter that kills bacteria
Engineers have created a bacteria-filtering membrane using graphene oxide and bacterial nanocellulose.
Probiotics are not always 'good bacteria'
Researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering were able to shed light on a part of the human body - the digestive system -- where many questions remain unanswered.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.