Globally, soils contain more carbon than terrestrial plants and the atmosphere combined, so even small changes in soil C stocks could have profound impacts (positive and negative) on atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the rate of global climate change. Interactions between plants, soil minerals, microbes and other living creatures dictate the flux of C through soil. These interactions are modulated by external factors such as rainfall and temperature, as well as human factors like land-use change and fertilization. These interactions are complicated and frequently non-linear so that the response of the system is not immediately predictable from the response of its individual components, a phenomenon known as emergence. Some of the first steps in understanding the fate of C in soils involves knowledge of how microbes break down plant polymers into simple compounds for energy. This same information and microbial functional potential can also be harnessed to improve the break down of plants for the production of biofuels.
Under the M2B initiative our initial work is focusing on soil and metazoan associated microbes as reservoirs of genetic potential of importance to C and nutrient transformation and stabilization.