Feb 17, 2022
Carbon storage study by Soil Health Institute gets funding from Wells Fargo

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) is getting funding from Wells Fargo to assist in identifying microbial indicators of optimal carbon cycling and storage in soil.

“Increases in carbon storage following adoption of regenerative soil health systems can take years to distinguish,” said Elizabeth Rieke, a soil microbiome scientist at SHI. “Our goal is to develop microbial indicators that allow stakeholders to observe how management decisions impact their potential to transform and build soil organic carbon stocks.”

The work will utilize metagenomic and carbon data collected as part of the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements.

“Most carbon inputs from crop residues and root exudates must be transformed by microbial community members prior to stabilizing in the soil profile,” Rieke said. “However, currently adopted indicators of carbon cycling in soil rely on disturbed soil samples, whose measures are difficult to relate back to in-field dynamics. Development of DNA based indicators will provide an opportunity to directly describe a soil’s functional potential to cycle carbon.”

Establishing genomic indicators of carbon cycling is the first step in the Institute’s goal of creating a suite of DNA-based soil health indicators capable of describing a multitude of different soil functions.

“Most currently utilized soil health indicators only relate to a single function, which has led to the development of numerous indicators. We believe that several soil functions can be tracked through analysis of a single DNA extract. Our goal is to identify genes of interest through metagenomic sequencing and then optimize direct quantification of the genes using high throughput qPCR performed on DNA we extracted from soils with known management histories across North America.”

Providing farmers low cost, easily interoperable indicators aids in the Institute’s goal of establishing regional soil health and carbon targets.

“To measure soil health at scale, we must consider indicator return on investment. Defining a core suite of genes related to different, currently unreported, soil functions is a cost-effective approach for measuring soil health at scale,” said Rieke.

“In addition to benefits related to improving crop yields and the nutritional quality of the food we grow, soil health is a critical factor in sequestering greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Jennivine Kwan, sustainability strategist for Wells Fargo’s Institute of Sustainable Finance. “As one of the top lenders to the agriculture sector, we are proud to support the efforts of the Soil Health Institute to develop easy-to-use, easy-to-understand techniques for measuring soil health to benefit famers and their communities, increase carbon storage by the sector and reduce its environmental impact.”

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