One thousand ziplocked bags of soil from ten countries will form the basis of the first large-scale survey of the microbial life hidden underground in sub-Saharan Africa. The leaders of the African soil microbiology project hope that the data will one day help to drive better agricultural practices and to protect ecosystems and crops in the face of climate change.
“Soils are critical and soil health is vital for human and animal livelihoods,” says Don Cowan, director of the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He launched the project on 8 October at the consortium’s first meeting in Pretoria.
Researchers increasingly recognize the importance of soil microbes to ecology and agriculture. Some bacteria and fungi colonize plant roots, promoting the plant’s growth. A diverse population of soil microbes helps to regulate an ecosystem’s climate, and maintains the fertility of the soil and its ability to support crops. And biotechnology companies including Monsanto are testing additives that contain soil microbes for their ability to improve agricultural productivity.