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Understanding microbes blowing in the wind

Date:
February 6, 2013
Source:
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics
Summary:
With help from a wind tunnel and the latest DNA technology, scientists are shedding light on the travel patterns of microbes in soils carried off by strong winds. The work has implications for soil health and could lead to management practices that minimize the damage to soils caused by wind erosion.

ARS research is shedding new light on hitchhiking by microbes in soils carried off by strong winds, which could lead to better ways to minimize soil damage from wind erosion.
Credit: Scott Van Pelt

With help from a wind tunnel and the latest DNA technology, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are shedding light on the travel patterns of microbes in soils carried off by strong winds. The work has implications for soil health and could lead to management practices that minimize the damage to soils caused by wind erosion.

Wind erosion is an emerging issue in soil conservation efforts. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have been studying wind-eroded soils since the 1930s, but few studies have focused on the effects of wind on the bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in the soil. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Researchers see an increasing need to focus on pathogens and agriculturally important bacteria carried in dust. ARS soil scientist Veronica Acosta-Martinez, with the agency's Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Unit in Lubbock, Texas, focused on bacterial populations that could be classified by DNA sequencing. She worked with Terrence Gardner, a visiting scientist from Alabama A&M University.

Researchers collected airborne dust and samples of a type of organic soil susceptible to wind erosion from fields where potatoes, beets and onions had grown a few years earlier and exposed them to windy conditions using a portable wind tunnel. They characterized the bacteria they found in both the "source soils" and the wind-eroded sediments, focusing on types of bacteria associated with coarse particles and on the types associated with fine dust particles.

They classified the bacteria found in each type of soil and wind-eroded sediment using pyrosequencing, a process that allowed them to identify up to 100 times more DNA in each sample than they would have detected with traditional methods. The study results, published online in the Journal of Environmental Quality, showed that certain types of bacteria, known as Bacteroidetes, were more predominant in the fine dust. Other types, known as Proteobacteria, were more predominant in coarse sediments.

Studies have shown that Bacteroidetes resist desiccation and thus can survive in extreme conditions when carried long distances. The fact that Proteobacteria were associated with coarse eroded sediments, which travel shorter distances, may explain how soils can retain important qualities despite damaging winds. Proteobacteria play an important role in carbon and nitrogen cycling, and their fate in dust storms will be the focus of future research, according to Acosta-Martinez.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. The original article was written by Dennis O'Brien. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Terrence Gardner, Veronica Acosta-Martinez, Francisco J. Calderσn, Ted M. Zobeck, Matthew Baddock, R. Scott Van Pelt, Zachary Senwo, Scot Dowd, Stephen Cox. Pyrosequencing Reveals Bacteria Carried in Different Wind-Eroded Sediments. Journal of Environment Quality, 2012; 41 (3): 744 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2011.0347

Cite This Page:

United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. "Understanding microbes blowing in the wind." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206162231.htm>.
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. (2013, February 6). Understanding microbes blowing in the wind. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206162231.htm
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. "Understanding microbes blowing in the wind." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206162231.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

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