Scope of Agricultural (Soil) Microbiology

Microorganisms are ubiquitous and they are densely found in the soil where they play important roles as it relates to crop yield and development. A handful of microorganisms that produce antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents that are used in medicine to contain the negative effects of pathogenic microorganisms (i.e. microorganisms that cause disease) are largely found and isolated from the soil.

Though there are different categories of microorganisms that cause diseases in plants, microorganisms found in the soil help a lot in nitrogen fixation and many others are used in the compounding of bio-fertilizers (Figure 1). Microorganisms living in the soil affect the plants and crops on the surface in diverse ways especially by helping them acquire vital nutrients required for their proper growth and plentiful harvest. While some microorganisms can cause disease in crops and farm animals, others can be used a bio-pesticides to control the devastating effects of insect pests and weeds in farmlands. Soil microbiologists also study the relationship between microorganisms and plant with the bid of enhancing crop yield and reducing microbial related diseases among plants (Figure 2).

Currently, conventional, recombinant DNA technology and monoclonal antibody techniques are used to improve microbial inoculants which serve as bio-fertilizers or plant growth supplements; and these microbial inoculants act by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in order to improve crop yields and they also to serve as plant pest controls by preventing the attack of farm crops by pests. Agricultural microbiologists play tremendous roles in the economy of any nation especially in this current state of global food insecurity.

In order to meet up with the current challenges of food insecurity around the globe and provide sustainable food products for the teaming population of the world; microbiologists have manipulated genes and/or proteins that control the architecture and stress resistance of plants (especially to disease and harsh environmental conditions) at the molecular level in order to improve crop productivity and ensure food security a across the world. Farmers and agriculturists can improve their crop productivity by using bio-fertilizers which incorporates microbes that help to improve the fertility of the soil. Bio-fertilizers or biological fertilizers help to unlock nitrogen and phosphorus (which are both vital for plant growth) from the soil; and unlike chemical fertilizers they are environmentally-friendly and do not adversely affect the soil. Bio-pesticides, bio-herbicides and bio-insecticides also exist for the control of pests in farmlands.

Identification of crops and plant species that can withstand stress in any environmental condition as well as crops with good architectural makeup is key to a sustainable food security worldwide; and certain high-throughput techniques (e.g., proteomics) are being harnessed to identify the genes or proteins responsible for these unique qualities in the plants so that such plants can be propagated to achieve an all-round food security.

Figure 1: Application of microorganisms in agricultural practices for sustainable agriculture. Accessed on the 10th February, 2015 from:

Figure 2: Wenbo Ma, a Professor of plant pathology and microbiology at the University of California, Riverside, California. Professor Wenbo’s work is centered on the soya bean plant; and her main research interest is to understand plant-pathogen interactions and how plant’s susceptibility to diseases could be reduced or treated for enhanced crop production. Source: Accessed from the website of University of California, Riverside on the 10th of February, 2015;


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