Reading the Molecular Code in Soils
Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 11:20
2008 (Moscone West)
There is much that we understand about the relationship between plants, microbes, soil, and water but that understanding is incomplete at the molecular scale. With advent of high throughput genomic sequencing we are beginning to appreciate the diversity of microbial community structure and function and its response to the rhythm of plant function. Through the lens of high-resolution mass spectrometry we are getting our first glimpses of the diversity of soil and pore water organic chemistry at the molecular level. In combination, these diverse data streams are revealing traces of chemical metabolic pathways. This approach promises to reveal many exciting future discoveries, shedding light into the “black box” that exists beneath our feet. In this talk we discuss our experience with the molecular characterization of soils from native prairie to restored prairie to active corn-soybean soils from the DOE funded CSiTE project in Batavia, Illinois. We focus on how common soil separation and fractionation techniques can affect the resulting molecular soil characterization by comparing whole soils to those that have been fractionated into micro- and macro-aggregates and their corresponding silt and clay fractions. When carefully utilized and interpreted these fractionation techniques can be utilized for deepening understanding of the biotic and abiotic chemical pathways effecting the organic chemistry in the different soil fractions. In highly fractionated soils we find significant differences in organic chemistry between silt and clay separates of corresponding hierarchical aggregate fractions. However the most biologically rich information resides in the whole soil. Here we see significant gradients in soil chemistry across to active agricultural to restored to native prairie soils. These results suggest a cautionary note, namely that soil fractionation prior to molecular characterization can reveal much about the “abiotic” interactions between organic molecules and soil minerals but the much of the “biotic” story resides in the whole soil.