What are the activities that destroy the ground

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The uptake of nitrogen from the soil plays a crucial role in the growth of plants. Plants compete for the available nitrogen, especially in shortage locations. It is difficult to observe this in living plants, however, as the soil is opaque. Methods that have been used up to now also mostly destroy the highly dynamic activities in the rhizosphere - the thin layer of soil that surrounds the roots.

The Konstanz biologist, Heisenberg fellow and private lecturer Dr. Over the next one and a half years, Judy Simon will be supported by the Volkswagen Foundation's “Experiment!” Funding initiative for her project “New transparent soil microcosms for live assessment of competition for nitrogen in the rhizosphere” with 108,000 euros in order to develop a system with which processes can be visualized in the rhizosphere in 3D.

The results of their research can contribute to the sustainable management of forests in the long term. For example, by better understanding the competition for nitrogen in trees, it would be possible to optimize the use of fertilizers in forest plantations.

The “Experiment!” Funding offer is aimed at researchers from the natural, engineering and life sciences who want to “try out a radically new and risky research idea,” as the Volkswagen Foundation says. Judy Simon will adapt the system that makes the underground processes visible through the transparent floor for her research on competition in trees. With the new method, the interactions between roots in the rhizosphere can be observed in 3D in order to investigate the question: How do trees communicate in order to optimally use the nitrogen in the soil, and how does this change depending on the environmental conditions?

The transparent substrate in which the plant grows was first developed for useful plants by Dr. Lionel Dupuy and his team at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland. The substrate is not actually soil. In fact, the plants grow in a transparent soil-like solid matrix that also contains pores. This matrix enables a view of the interactions between the roots.

In adapting the system for trees, Judy Simon will also use 3D imaging using confocal microscopy, a technique of light microscopy, and fluorescent markers. When it comes to microscopy in particular, the biologist thinks on a larger scale. In the long term, the investigations should not only take place with plants a few centimeters in size. Judy Simon: “The larger the plant, the further the root system develops and the more exciting are the interactions between different individuals. Our long-term goal is to develop a system with which the processes in larger plants can also be observed. "

Fact overview:

  • Funding of the project "New transparent soil microcosms for live assessment of competition for nitrogen in the rhizosphere" by the funding initiative "Experiment!" Of the Volkswagen Foundation
  • The applicant is the Konstanz biologist and Heisenberg fellow PD Dr. Judy Simon
  • Collaboration partner: Dr. Lionel Dupuy, James Hutton Institute (Scotland)
  • Funding amount: 108,000 euros
  • Funding period: From April 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019
  • “Experiment!” Is aimed at researchers from the natural, engineering and life sciences who are trying out a “radically new and risky research idea”.

Comic on the subject
Copyright: Sabine Deviche, Deviche Designs

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