Long ago, during the European Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci wrote that we humans "know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot." Five hundred years and innumerable technological and scientific advances later, his sentiment still holds true.
But that could soon change.
In a report published in Nature Communications a team of scientists from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) detailed the first-ever successful use of a technique called BONCAT to isolate active microbes present in a sample of soil -- an achievement could enable a tidal wave of new research.
"Soils are probably the most diverse microbial communities on the planet," said Estelle Couradeau, first author of the study. "In every gram of soil, there are billions of cells from tens of thousands of species that, all together, perform important Earth nutrient cycles. They are the backbone of terrestrial ecosystems, and healthy soil microbiomes are key to sustainable agriculture. We now have the tools to see who these species are, but we don't yet know how they do what they do. This proof-of-concept study shows that BONCAT is an effective tool that we could use to link active microbes to environmental processes."
Full details can be found here