Can Soil Microbes Help Combat Climate Change?

A microbiologist says he has found a novel technique to store carbon and increase crop yields

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Some climate experts have proposed “carbon farming”—extracting carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in soil—as a means of combating climate change. But whether this can be accomplished while also increasing crop yields remains uncertain. David Johnson, a microbiologist at New Mexico State University, says he has come up with a possible way to do just that. Johnson claims that by increasing the ratio of fungi to bacteria in the soil, farmers can restore its microbiome, while maximizing soil’s carbon-storing potential and increasing its water retention and agricultural yield. He recently conducted a four-and-a-half-year trial involving a microbe-rich soil treatment derived from worm compost. “We currently have very degraded soils physically, chemically, but mostly biologically,” Johnson tells Scientific American. “Microbes restore this balance.” Not all soil scientists agree with Johnson’s findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed. But his results offer an intriguing possibility—and in an era of climate change, even possible solutions are worth exploring.

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