Skip to navigation Skip to content

Soil micro-organisms may help farmers reduce greenhouse gases

Soil being tipped from a spade
"This finding offers great potential to better predict the processes underlying nitrous oxide emission from soils, and in the future may enable farmers and land managers to manage soils in such a way as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Newly published research into soil microbes shows how, eventually, farmers might reduce greenhouse gas production through the way they manage their soils. The work, by an EU wide consortium including researchers from the James Hutton Institute, shows how effectively a newly discovered group of soil microbes breaks down nitrous oxide, a major contributor to global warming and a gas blamed for depleting the ozone layer. It suggests that if their growth could be encouraged soils could make a greater contribution to addressing climate change.

The research, published in the respected journal Nature Climate Change, was led by the INRA agroecology centre in France and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The consortium involved scientists from the Irish agriculture and food development authority, Teagasc, and from Scotland, the James Hutton Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Dr Fiona Brennan, research scientist with the Ecological Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute and co-author of the study, said: “Micro-organisms are the main drivers of Nitrogen cycling in soils. Understanding how they function is critical in terms of managing land in a way to enhance crop growth and reduce harmful nitrous oxide emissions.

“This research has found that while some soils act as sources or emitters of Nitrous oxide, others act as sinks, breaking it down into harmless Nitrogen gas. We found that the capacity of soils to act as Nitrous oxide sinks is associated with a newly discovered group of soil micro-organisms.

“This finding offers great potential to better predict the processes underlying nitrous oxide emission from soils, and in the future may enable farmers and land managers to manage soils in such a way as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

There are literally billions of different micro-organisms in soils. Instead of looking for particular individual species the researchers used DNA analysis to look for the genes linked to denitrification. Their results, from a survey of 47 different soils across Europe, represent many species of microorganism all of which share this ability to reduce nitrous oxide.

Co-author Professor Bryan Griffiths, soil ecologist at SRUC, commented: “Nitrous oxide contributes some 6% to global warming and has a major effect on the ozone layer. Around 70% of the world’s nitrous oxide comes from various land-based ecosystems and 60% of that can be attributed to microbial processes in agriculture. If we can find ways of altering the balance so that there are larger populations of these nitrous oxide reducing microbes, it will help agriculture reduce what we call its environmental footprint.”

The paper “Recently identified microbial guild mediates soil N2O sink capacity” has been published in Nature Climate Change and is available online.

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/soil-micro-organisms-may-help-farmers-reduce-greenhouse-gases on 29/11/22 12:18:41 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.