Bioengeered soil microbes might help preventing Desertification - Seeker's Thoughts

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Bioengeered soil microbes might help preventing Desertification




 According to a new study, by modifying the genes of microbes in the soil, it might be possible to make a dry ecosystem more flexible to climate change and overgrazing.

Apparently, the research is in the early stages and presently consists of theoretical work using computer models. However, the models suggest that even relatively small changes to key organisms could have profound effects.



40% of earth’s land the area roughly cover “drylands” and are home to about 40% of the human population.

According to a biophysicist Ricard Sole, at Pomepeu Fabra University in Spain. Several dry lands host productive ecosystems that are adapted to low levels of moisture. But when such ecosystems are subject to overgrazing or a warming climate, they can collapse and turn into much less hospitable deserts. These collapses often happen suddenly after the ecosystem passes a “tipping point.”


Sole and his team is working to see whether genetic changes to microorganism cold shift these tipping points. For instance, it may be possible to take photosynthetic bacteria that already live in dryland soils and splice in genes that allow them to store more water or capture more phosphorus. These engineered bacteria could then enrich the soil, allowing plants to grow and create shade which would then support the growth of more bacteria.


Richard sole explains such mutually benefitting relationships between species as cooperative loops. In one set of models, his team colleagues simulated the creation of new cooperative loops and observed how they affected the rest of the virtual ecosystem. In another set of models, they simulated microbes with increased ability to disperse and spread to new areas.

According to the sole both types of modifications will allow simulating ecosystem to function under direr condition.

Theoretically engineered microbes might allow dryland ecosystems to survive for several more decades, giving humanity more time to address the underlying problem such as climate change.


How microbes engineering works?
 Soil microbial environment. Microbes can be beneficial at mediating processes like nutrient cycling mineralization, disease resistance and protection from abiotic stresses or pathogenic. In either case the detection of specific microbes and microbial compounds in the soil is important, both as a means to gauge soil activity and to direct interventions as needed.

But, the detection of biological species is difficult, and while biochemical assays have been developed for some targets, several compounds cannot be measured without intensive profiling techniques.


Humans are creating genetically-engineered microbial sensors to detect biological targets of interest. Although it is difficult to create nonbiological systems to sense biological targets, proteins with affinity for specific biological molecules are common in nature.

By using genetic engineering tools, we can re-purpose these proteins to trigger a detectable response in a selected microbial chassis. These microbial sensors can potentially be utilized to continually monitor for certain targets or to implement self-contained responsive systems, such s narrow-range pesticide release upon detection of a known pathogens.


The role of climate change and desertification
Desertification has always been the greatest environmental challenge and climate change is making it worse.


It’s an issue that reaches far beyond those living in and around the world’s deserts, threatening the food security and livelihood of more than two billion people.

The impact of climate change, land mismanagement, and unsustainable freshwater use has seen the world’s water-scarce regions increasingly degraded. This leaves their soil less able to support crops, livestock, and wildlife.


In 1994, the United Nations established the “United nations convention to combat desertification” as the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. The convention itself was a response to a call at the UN earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to hold negotiations for an international legal agreement on desertification.


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