Soil Microbial Population Dynamics and Soil Aggregation

Implications for food security and agroecosystem soil health

Fellow: Morgan Irons

Theme: Agriculture
Research Pillars: Environment, Adaptation

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Research Fellow, PhD Student Principal Investigator, Cornell University: Ms. Morgan Irons, graduate student of crop and soil sciences
Fellow Advisor, Principal Investigator, overall Research Director, and Program Manager, Cornell University: Dr. Johannes Lehmann, professor of soil science
Associate Investigator and Program Manager, Freie Universität Berlin: Dr. Matthias Rillig, professor of ecology in the Institute of Biology

In this study, the researchers will investigate fungal mycelial interactions and organic adhesives produced by bacteria, which ultimately affects organo-mineral chemistry processes involved in soil aggregate formation and soil stability. An Earth experiment and an ISS experiment with flight-controls and ground-controls will be used. DNA extraction and analysis, advanced electron microscopy, aggregate fractionation, soil respiration tests, and statistical analysis will be used to analyze the biogeochemistry of the soil, the organo-mineral interactions in soil aggregates, shifts in the population dynamics of the microbiome, and the biochemistry of the mycelium and organic adhesives. Consequently, study of these critical soil aggregate formation and stability processes will enable development of sustainable soil management practices on Earth and in space. Fundamental understanding of this science is critical to develop sustain and climate-smart technologies to combat the accelerating depletion of soil and nutrient resources using open-field techniques, the worsening effects of climate change, and food insecurity in areas with increasing populations.

Phase 1:

Earth Experiment

Full gravity experiment at Cornell University and Freie Universität Berlin

Phase 2:

Launch and Return Controls for Microgravity Experiment:

Fellow Morgan Irons has received the 2019 ASGSR Ken Souza Memorial award, which includes a flight for this experiment on a future Blue Origin New Shepard rocket launch

Phase 3:

Low-Earth-Orbit Experiment

Soil Health in Space: Determination of Gravitational Effects on Soil Stability for Controlled Environment Agriculture
Our proposal to the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has been approved and is now being sponsored by NASA, CASIS, and Rhodium Scientific (our implementation partner). The project is being funded by grants from Deep Space Ecology, Inc., bio365, Rhodium Scientific, and The Zwillenberg-Tietz Foundation. A description of the experiment can be found at the NASA Website here.

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