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A census of the soil microbiome


by Lori Dajose, California Institute of Technology
Many people have experienced the mysterious death of a houseplant. Despite ample water and sunlight, something invisible seems to happen under the soil's surface to sabotage the plant's health. Just as communities of microbes live in the human gut and influence human health, the so-called soil microbiome of bacteria and fungi intimately influences plant health starting at the root.

In our changing climate, a thorough understanding of healthy soil microbiomes will lead to more resilient crops and thus more sustainable food sources. Now, a team led by Caltech researchers has developed a new computational technique for analyzing the DNA present within a soil sample in order to survey the microbial species present. The technique has revealed new insights into the bacterial species that protect plants from pathogenic fungi.

The work was done in the laboratory of Dianne Newman, Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology and executive officer for molecular biology. Newman is the Ecology and Biosphere Engineering Initiative Lead at Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute.

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