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Wednesday, 08 May 2013 00:00

Researchers study agro-ecological capacity of soils from a Biochemistry perspective

G.P. G.P.

A research group belonging to ceiA3 is carrying out an analysis on the internal processes that occur beneath the ground, thus defining the biological identity of soils

The Campus of International Excellence in Agrifood (ceiA3) is putting into practice several scientific methodologies to analyze functionality of soils in relation to the supply of nutrients for plants. Traditionally, soil fertility has been studied from an agricultural chemistry perspective, but scientific advances in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Microbiology allow now to analyze aspects that were unnoticed earlier. The thing is that soils are inhabited by a countless legion of microorganisms. These microorganisms develop different biological activities and consequently they keep soils active.

ceiA3 is analyzing these activities through the research group called Forest Ecology and Dynamics of the Landscape, from the University of Jaén. This group is carrying out a study about how to enhance empowerment of this valuable but free service ecosystem in arable soils. "Soil is an ecosystem itself", declared the group lead, doctor José Antonio Carreira de la Fuente. He explained that soil was usually studied from the point of view of its agricultural capacity, i.e., its potential for farming and agricultural production. Now, thanks to these techniques, environmental aspects about soil properties, such as degradation suffered by agricultural practices, wearing away and erosion, can be considered. The objective is to use this knowledge to consider treatments and techniques that enhance quality and ecological functionality of soils.

The UJA expert stated that "in practice, soils are not a renewable resource; if a soil is degraded it will need much time, centuries and even millennia, to make up for the same soil existing before degradation". He added that wearing away and erosion are a soil´s worst enemy. Because of that, it is important to check the soil state and take advantage of its possibilities without causing an environmental impact that may destroy it in a long term.

Therefore, the UJA group continues working on the analysis of several microbiological activities in soils to arrive to know the supply of generated nutrients and its level of toxicity or contamination, as well as other equally important parameters. These activities basically consist of the interactions that occur between the organisms that live in soils and the environment in which they live. For instance, they have been analyzing the activity of certain enzymes that break down organic matter, mineralize it, and return it converted into nutrients that are very useful for plant life. José Antonio Carreira pointed out that these enzymes are excellent bioindicators to learn new possibilities for each environment, what treatment they may need or what combination of fertilizers is the most suitable… The research team is focusing their study on olive tree soils, which he considers a crop with little needs. "Olive trees have been adapted to take little, and to recycle this little internally so that they make the most of it... but everything has a limit," he says. One more reason to pamper and take care of the soils in which olive trees are cultivated.

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