This is a post composed as part of the NSF “Science: Becoming the Messenger” workshop held in Lawrence, Kansas on January 27-28, 2011.
Soil is fundamental to life on earth and is considered the most complicated biomaterial on earth. Soil provides services critical for life: soil acts as a water filter and a growing medium; provides habitat for billions of organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight diseases. Humans use soil as a holding facility for solid waste, filter for wastewater, and foundation for our cities and towns. Soil provides us with feed, fiber, food and fuel. Healthy soil is essential for feeding the expected 9 billion people by 2050. We must develop new technologies and techniques to produce more feed, fiber, food and fuel with less— less land, less water, less energy, and fewer nutrient inputs. Achieving this will require improved crops and novel soil management strategies. Soils are also critical for a healthy planet. Soils provide clean water and help regulate climate. There is twice as much carbon in the soil as in the atmosphere and three times as much in vegetation. Soils are critical for human health. Did you know that almost all of the antibiotics we take to help us fight infections were obtained from soil microorganisms? Over 80% of antibiotics come from soil microbes. Did you know that there are more living individual organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on the earth? A teaspoon of soil contains over 1 billion bacteria yet we know only 1%. The remaining 99% are unknown and contain a treasure trove of products. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Soil Science Society of America.
By Chuck Rice, President, SSSA