Stable-Isotope Probing and Its Application in Soil Microbiology

Authored by: Yin Chen , Deepak Kumaresan , J. Colin Murrell

Handbook of Soil Sciences Properties and Processes

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803059
eBook ISBN: 9781439803066
Adobe ISBN:


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Soil is such a complex environment and the functions of many microorganisms inhabiting it are difficult to predict. In the last few decades, environmental microbiologists have applied many techniques in order to study the structure and function of these organisms in soil (Adamczyk et al., 2003; Huang et al., 2004, 2007; Wagner, 2004; Lechene et al., 2006; Ottesen et al., 2006; Hashsham et al., 2007; Li et al., 2008). Stable isotopes, particularly nitrogen (N) and carbon (C), have been used for decades to understand the function of microorganisms in soil ecosystems. Labeling methodologies enable the introduction of the compounds of interest, and the fate of these compounds in soil can then be followed. Norman and Werkman (1943) performed the first tracer experiment using labeled 15N fertilizer and demonstrated that only 20% of the soybean residues were taken up by the plant and the rest were incorporated into soil organic matter. Early contributions of 15N trace studies to our knowledge on nitrogen mineralization and immobilization in soil have been reviewed by Winsor (1958). The use of 15N in experiments revealed that nitrogen added to the soil decreased in availability with time (Legg et al., 1971) and the majority of nitrogen was immobilized as amino acids (Cheng and Kurtz, 1963) and amino sugars (Isiriah and Keeney, 1973). Since then, a number of studies have used 15N to understand nitrogen cycling in soil. This has been reviewed in detail by Nannipieri and Paul (2009). Moreover, a variety of labeled carbon substrates such as CO2, CH4, glucose, amino acids, and plant organic matter have now been used to address fundamental questions in soil ecology, particularly to understand the carbon transfer in soil-plant system (Stewart and Metherell, 1999), soil microbial respiration (van Vuuren et al., 2000), and soil food web (Middelburg et al., 2000). The role of carbon isotopes in understanding functional soil ecology has been extensively reviewed by Staddon (2004).

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