Scientists aim to understand Africa’s soil better

Africa’s soil is getting a better look under the microscope, thanks to the African Soil Microbiology Project launched at the start of the month from the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa.

“The project hopes to gain a baseline understanding of the organisms in Africa’s soils and contribute to soil fertility, climate change and health research on the continent.”

According to the UP, this attempt to look into the microscopic life in the soil under our feet in sub-Saharan Africa is the first of its kind.

“We know now that microbial communities in soil are important for agricultural performance, bioremediation and many other things. But we know almost nothing about soil microbiology in Africa,” says Professor Don Cowan, the director of the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics at UP.

With this study, researchers hope to improve scientists’ understanding of soil fertility, soil degradation, the future impacts of climate change, and public health issues, in the light of the major challenges Africa face with soil conservation and food security, that is linked to the threat of population increase and environmental changes.

The project is funded by the USAID and runs over a time frame of three years. Different partners in the different countries will work together to sample the soils in their countries.

The analysis of these soil samples will take place at the University of Pretoria, using Next Generation DNA sequencing. According to this method the microorganisms will be grouped with their different soil types, a science know as phylogeography.

According to Cowan the findings of the research can be an extremely valuable resource for researchers and policymakers. “We hope to start to understand the way in which differences in region, climate patterns, and land use can affect the structure of microbial communities.

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