In California, a group of University of California, Irvine scientists from UCI’s School of Biological Sciences and Department of Earth System Science won $2.7 million in federal funding to dig deeper into how soil microbes respond to drought. Their work is part of the national Genomic Science Program, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative examining ways to best grow biofuel crops in the future.
The scientists’ project stems from research they’ve been conducting in Orange County parklands in partnership with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. With Southern California especially vulnerable to drought, the grasslands and shrub lands offer particularly relevant locations for their investigation. Studying the microbiome of dead plant matter nourishing the soil at these sites, the team found that the community of several hundred species of bacteria and fungi shifts in composition when deprived of moisture.
In addition to providing insights that could be significant for biofuel crops, the project has broader implications, according to co-principal investigator Adam Martiny, professor of Earth system science and ecology & evolutionary biology. “Due to their abundance, microorganisms are crucial to how our planet functions,” he said. “As such, we need to fully understand how they’ll respond to the severe environmental changes we likely will experience in the future.”