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The Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology
Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Molecular profiling of soil microbial populations

Image The diversity of microorganisms in soils is tremendous. Knowledge about this diversity is rapidly increasing, mostly due to the application of molecular principles, the development of high throughput technologies and of bioinformatic tools for the treatment of large-scale data sets. Deciphering the complexity, diversity, distribution, functions, interactions and relations to environmental parameters is required to obtain a comprehensive ecological understanding of microbes in soil and of the processes they perform. Such understanding is essential if we are to enjoy the benefits of this diversity in fields such as agriculture and forensics.

Soil bacterial communities are local

ImageSoils are very diverse, and their distribution uneven. In some areas soils may be homogenous over large expanses or vary rather abruptly over short distances. The microbial community is affected by many parameters, including abiotic parameters such as pH, texture, organic matter, wetness, soil depth and by biotic parameters (the density and type of vegetation, microfauna).

Our research goals

We are interested in the distribution of microbes in soils. Do they experience distance-decay relationship? What are the parameters that affect community structure and function? Are there tractable environmental parameters that can predict which organisms will dominate and what are biological functions mediating this dominance? 

A main goal of our research is to use such understanding to develop the potential of soil microbial community analysis to provide forensics information.

Recent and ongoing research

Figures

Middle left: Soil samples from the same origin are closely related (each colour is another soil, each circle a different sample); Bottom left: a T-RFLP electropherogram representing the profile of a soil bacterial community.