Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar
Soils are key players in global biogeochemical cycles, influencing carbon storage, nutrient cycling, and the growth of agricultural plants. While important, the soil environment and the microbes therein are also notoriously challenging to understand in a predictive manner. One productive approach to this problem may be to focus on the small molecule tools that microbes and plants use to modify their surroundings. Almost every microbe and plant makes numerous excreted "secondary metabolites", which aid in nutrient acquisition, defense, and communication. Production of these metabolites is ubiquitous in soil organisms and significant amounts of fixed carbon and nitrogen can be devoted to their synthesis. Yet, because secondary metabolites have been primarily studied as antibiotics, we know surprisingly little about their other functions in the environment. In this talk, I will discuss ways that studies of secondary metabolites might be used to gain mechanistic insights into biogeochemical processes in soils. I will focus specifically on the identification of new roles for redox-active microbial antibiotics in increasing the bioavailability of phosphorus.