Soil is a complex and active ecosystem. The soil microbiome is an umbrella term for all microorganisms in the soil and their habitats. Soils are rich in microbial diversity, and they play key roles in material decomposition, elemental biogeochemical cycling, plant productivity, and biological health. The core of soil microbiome research is the co-evolution of microbial communities in specific soils and their environmental functions. The functions of soil microbiomes are closely related to basic human needs such as food production, environmental protection, and medicine and health.
Why are Soil Microbes So Important?
Firstly, soil microorganisms can form the soil structure. Soil is not a simple combination of soil particles and fertilizers, but as an active part of the soil, soil microorganisms help soil particles to form large aggregates through the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in their metabolic activities and the secretion of organic acids, which ultimately form the soil in the true sense of the word. Secondly, soil microorganisms are most effective in decomposing organic matter, but they can also decompose minerals, and their metabolic products promote the dissolution of insoluble substances in the soil.
Six Major Technologies to Solve Soil Problems
■ Microbiome Sequencing Technology
Microbiome sequencing technology is put in the first place because measuring and understanding the microbiome composition of the soil is the foundation of soil health management, we can use the soil microbiome to understand the relationship between the soil and the crop environment, to select the appropriate crops suitable accordingly, and to subsequently select the remediation technology and agents more scientifically and accurately.
In the U.S., Indigo Ag is a microbial technology startup dedicated to producing seed coats for crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton. The company is currently moving forward with sequencing 40,000 microbiomes. The startup’s goal is to modify the genetic structure of seeds by adding microbes to crops to create more resilient crops that are better able to withstand drought and disease.
■ Soil Microbial Genome Data Collection
Soils are rich in microbial diversity, which plays a key role in material decomposition, elemental biogeochemical cycling, plant productivity, and biological health. Understanding soil microbial biogeographic patterns, mechanisms, and community-building rules can help predict the functional evolution of the soil microbiome and its regulatory impact on terrestrial ecosystems in the context of global change. Since the 21st century, soil microbial biogeography has gradually formed a model of molecular biology technology coupled with big data analysis under the impetus of various large-scale international microbiology programs, which have enabled correlative research on multiple scales.
Pattern Ag was founded in 2018 and soon began building a soil microbial database. As the work progressed, Pattern Ag collected samples and began DNA testing of the soil. Today, Pattern Ag collects and analyses soil samples from across the Midwest, continually adding depth to its vast database. The company plans to expand this work to include analyses of soil samples from around the globe, and its long-term vision is to create the first global map of the soil microbiome. The scale of Pattern Ag’s database is critical because it opens up new computational solutions in agriculture. The database in agricultural soils allows us to predict agronomic outcomes more accurately than ever before, unlocking the power of predictive agriculture for our customers.
■ The Use of Artificial Intelligence
Solena from Mexico is a soil microbiology startup that helps farmers increase agricultural yields. Like a handful of other startups, it is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to build a data warehouse on soil. The company’s proprietary AI-powered Prometheus platform is the world’s most extensive repository of soil microbial data, turning diagnostic data into insights and customized microbial inoculant recommendations.
Trace Genomics uses machine learning to provide soil analysis services to farmers, and major investor Illumina has helped it develop a machine-learning-based system that enables clients to have a clear understanding of soil strengths and weaknesses, with a focus on crop defect prevention as well as crop yield improvement.
■ Microbial Agents
Soil contamination from chemical pesticide use is an important factor in the deterioration of soil quality. Pesticides enter the soil and undergo a variety of physical, chemical, and biochemical reactions. Pesticides entering the soil are adsorbed by clay minerals or organic matter, with organic matter-adsorbed pesticides accounting for about 70 to 90 percent of the total soil adsorption, leading to soil acidification and a decline in organic matter content.
Apnea. Bio provides research and development in the field of bio-pesticides and bio-herbicides. The company’s goal is to develop sustainable biopesticides and biostimulants using natural microorganisms to increase crop yields and improve protection against fungal diseases, providing farmers with alternatives to the use of chemical pesticides.
Nanoencapsulation technology, which is exclusive to NanoScoping, achieves two main effects: firstly, it enhances the product adhesion diffusion effect, which improves product adhesion and coverage on plant surfaces; and secondly, it has an emulsification effect that improves the stability of vegetable oils and prevents the active ingredients from segregating or settling.
■ Precision Agriculture
Another growing field, precision agriculture, is also being used to help maintain healthy soils. Remote sensing, GPS, and data analytics can help farmers optimize inputs, reduce waste, and minimize environmental impact. Precision agriculture allows for the targeted application of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation to improve soil health and resource efficiency.
Israel-based Agmatix can take precise inputs during the growing season cycle and add additional data such as soil, water, and leaf analysis throughout the growing season to adapt to crop nutritional plans. Its platform improves decision-making on soil health by integrating real-world agronomic data into one platform and allowing agricultural professionals to access the right information at the right time.
■ Carbon Capture
Soils are important carbon reservoirs. The release of greenhouse gases from soils, particularly through agricultural activities, has implications for the global atmospheric CO₂ balance. Measures to enable long-term storage of carbon in soil (carbon capture) are key to mitigating climate change.
Carbo Culture was founded in Finland and is based in San Francisco. Since 2018, Carbo Culture has raised €550,000 in funding. The company believes that effective carbon sequestration can be achieved by remediating soil by converting biomass waste into biochar.
Loam Bio was founded in 2019 by a group of scientists, farmers, and entrepreneurs in Australia and North America to address two problems: too much carbon dioxide in the air and too little carbon in the soil. The startup is developing a technology that allows crops to be inoculated with symbiotic microbes. These microbes not only improve the fertility and disease resistance of the host plant but also help the soil around the plant’s roots store carbon more efficiently, resulting in better soil quality for future plantings.