NorthenLab: Exometabolomics linking genomes with environments to understand how webs of microbes sustain biomes

Northen awarded DOE Early Career Award to develop soil exometabolomics

Understanding microbial metabolite cycling in soils using novel metabolomics approaches

Trent Northen, Staff Scientist

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Berkeley, CA

To improve agricultural processes and combat the effects of desertification and drought, we urgently need to improve our understanding of terrestrial nutrient cycling in soils. We have major investments in soil sequencing efforts that has the potential to revolutionize predictive models. Yet we lack vital data that will enable linking sequence data and metabolic transformations in soils.  This program will pioneer soil metabolomics to bridge this gap. Using tractable soil systems we will resolve the current ‘black box’ of soil organic matter. We will take advantage of the cascades of microbial activities that follow wetting of dry soil to correlate soil metabolite composition and turnover to active microbes. We will develop detailed methods to determine the uptake and release of specific soil metabolites by key soil bacteria that will help enable predictions of metabolism based on sequencing data. Our approaches will be used to predict and test soil metabolite composition based on sequencing data along a gradient of community compositions, temperature and shifts in primary producers. Together this program will provide an urgently needed complement to sequencing approaches helping enable genomic sciences approaches to understanding and modeling soil nutrient cycling.