Designing Dirt

Year: 
2015
Ranking: 
Second Place
Artist: 
Joseph Blankinship (Postdoc), Sage Davis
Department: 
Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology
Lab: 
Schimel Lab

Description

Nature’s best glue comes from bacteria. Strands of bacteria-derived xanthan (at bottom) glue together large aggregates of soil. By encouraging bacteria to secrete these glues, we are exploring soil-based solutions for making California agriculture more adaptable to drought and future climate change.

Details

Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) image showing a 50-micron sliver of soil from UC Sedgwick Reserve amended with xanthan gum to improve soil health. Strands of xanthan gum can be seen at the bottom of the image gluing together much larger soil aggregates. Xanthan gum is a commercially available food additive produced by soil bacteria. Xanthan can potentially help California agriculture adapt to drought by acting as a sponge to increase soil water retention, acting as pipes to increase nutrient supply to crops, and acting as glue to decrease soil erosion.

CSEP CNSI Schuller Lab UCSB