Soil-on-a-chip experiments confirm the dangers of carbon-seizing bacteria

New Princeton University Study Shows Carbon Molecules Can Leave Soil

much faster than previously thought.The findings suggest a key role for certain types of soil bacteria that can produce certain enzymes. They break down large carbon molecules and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Soil stores more carbon than anythingplants and planetary atmosphere combined. It absorbs about 20% of human carbon emissions. However, the factors affecting the accumulation and release of carbon from soil are difficult to study, which limits the relevance of climate models. The new results confirm environmental concerns that large carbon molecules may be released from the soil faster than conventional models suggest.

In an article published on January 27 in Nature Communications, scientists have developed experiments such as "soil onchip ". The goal is to mimic the interactions between soil, carbon compounds and soil bacteria. The researchers used synthetic transparent clay as a substitute for soil components that play the largest role in the absorption of carbon-containing molecules.

"Chip" was a modifieda microscope slide, or microfluidic device. It contained channels with silicone walls half a centimeter long and several times the width of a human hair (about 400 micrometers). Inlet and outlet pipes at each end of the channels allowed researchers to pump a synthetic clay solution and then slurries containing carbon molecules, bacteria, or enzymes.

Researchers coated this microfluidic device with transparent clay, then added fluorescently labeled sugar molecules and visualized the sorption and release of carbon from the clay under a microscope.
Photo: Judy K. Yang

Having covered the channels with transparent clay, the researchersadded fluorescently labeled sugar molecules to mimic the carbonaceous nutrients that seep from plant roots, especially when it rains. The experiments allowed researchers to directly observe the location of carbon compounds in the clay and their movements in response to fluid flow in real time.

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