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Ecogenomic profiling of Queensland sugarcane soils

Soil is a major reservoir of carbon, nitrogen and resources for plants that in turn support most life on earth. Soils host diverse microbial communities that associate with plants beneficially and as pathogens and that drive dynamics of carbon and nitrogen cycling and other biochemical processes.

Differences in the composition of soil microbial communities are a major reason soils differ in their capacity to support productive and sustainable agriculture. While crop producers have tools to amend soil physical and chemical properties to optimise production, there is less knowledge on how to improve soil biological properties. Soil microbiomes are notoriously complex and resist analysis using standard microbiological methods. As a result, very little is known about the genetic diversity and metabolic capacity of soils, how these vary among soil types and locations, or what potential exists to leverage natural microbial communities to control pathogens, improve the efficiency of fertiliser use, degrade pesticides and sequester atmospheric carbon. Yet knowledge of these processes and their microbial drivers is fundamental for optimal land use and sustainable bioproduction.

To profile genetic and metabolic capabilities of microbial communities in sugarcane soils, and develop strategies, products and services for sustainable bioproduction and land use

This Queensland state-funded project aims to assist the industry by improving knowledge of soil biology, and to contribute to the goal of devising improved crop systems driven by ecological principles to reduce costs and advance environmental sustainability.

Sugarcane is the world's largest crop with 1.6 billion tons annual harvest globally. To the Australian economy, sugarcane is worth $2 billion per year, and sugarcane is used for food, biofuel and biomaterials. A major issue of the sugarcane industry is to ensure high productivity, cost-efficiency and environmentally safe practises.

There is an identified need of crop industries to better understand the action of soil management and to lower resource inputs and pollution. The knowledge generated in the project will provide foundations for next-generation agriculture that harnesses soil biology for efficient and sustainable production.

©2013 UQ Sugarcane Ecogenomics Research Group
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