Feb 28, 2018
Next generation sequencing holds promise for potato sector

Soil is sometimes considered the last frontier because so little is known about the microbial and fungal communities that live within it. What we do know is that in just a small handful of dirt, live thousands upon thousands of microorganisms, some helpful to plant production, some not.

“A lot of people are really excited about the work in microbiology because it’s thought that microbes could come to our rescue,” said Claudia Goyer, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre in New Brunswick, Canada. “The hope is that we will better understand bacteria and fungal communities in soil.”

Claudia Goyer, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre in New Brunswick, Canada.

Soil health and crop production go hand in hand, which is why scientists, like Goyer, are working hard to better understand it. Her work on soil microbes using next generation sequencing could help potato growers increase production. Research like hers is especially important as the number of mouths to feed grows steadily, while available land for production shrinks.

Goyer, a noted soil scientist and potato researcher, has been using next generation sequencing to better understand microbial and fungal communities in soil.

In one study, Goyer looked at how bacterial and fungal communities change in the varying topography of a potato field. “We wanted to know what the controls were for the spatial distribution of bacteria in a commercial potato field,” she said.

The study involved 83 sampling points in a one-kilometer long transect. The researchers took soil samples from each for the points and measured their soil properties, including pH, moisture, texture, and the concentration of nitrogen and soil organic carbon, to see how they related to topography, including elevation, aspect and curvature.

“What we found was that the range of soil pH was quite large – from 4.3 to 7.0 – and what we discovered is that soil pH and slope are highly and negatively correlated,” Goyer said. “We think what’s happening is that because that system has been under agriculture for a long time the soil at the top of the slope has lost its first layer and the subsoil is very acidic.”

After analyzing the results, Goyer found that slope, soil organic carbon and pH were also really important in explaining the diversity of bacteria in the soil. Goyer’s team also used geostatistics and looked at the distance at which there was a correlation between the diversity of microbial communities between samples and at what point that correlation ceases.

“What it indicated is that it is possible to influence the diversity of bacterial communities in fields,” Goyer said. “I think that’s exciting because in the future if we want to harness the power of microbes to sustain more crop productivity, then it is possible by simple actions to do this.”

Goyer said there’s still a lot of research to do in this area, but it’s work she’s excited to do. “If we want to increase crop productivity, better understanding what the microbes are doing and how they’re associated with plants, then harnessing this ability of the microbes to help grow more food is what every microbiologist dreams about,” said Goyer.

More of Goyer’s findings can be found in the April edition of Spudman

  • Melanie Epp, contributing writer



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