18.2 C
Byron Shire
July 6, 2022

Soil fungi could help us with global warming

Latest News

Value of the intangible and Suffolk Parks future

It’s hard to know what value to place on the environment – until it changes irrevocably.  A place is defined...

Other News

Two whales simultaneously entangled in shark nets off SEQ coast today

Two whales have been entangled in shark nets on Queensland's coast today, one at Kirra Beach on the Gold Coast and the other at Marcoola Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Humane Society International says.

NSW Farmers: post-flood job losses are devastating

People need jobs if an area is to survive and many businesses have been crippled when successive major floods devastated the region earlier this year.

Australia to light the way with industrial-scale power

Big ideas are easy. Finding the big money and big names to back them is not. But a long-term plan to turn WA’s Pilbara into the largest renewable energy hub in the world has just taken a giant leap forward.

Celebrating 40 years of Fig Tree Restaurant

It all started with a simple dream, to convert its original farmhouse in Ewingsdale into a restaurant in which...

Will Byron become the Malibu of the antipodes?

Here’s another reason for millennials to be marching on the street. We found out last week that on census day 2021, 15 per cent of the dwellings in the Byron Shire were unoccupied (2,348 places to be precise). That figure was 30 per cent in Byron Bay itself, three times the national average. 

Taqueria in Byron celebrates four years

Chupacabra Mexican restaurant in Suffolk Park is turning four this week! Through the ups and downs of the past...

Photo Markus Spiske www.stocksnap.io

Brought to you by Cosmos Magazine and The Echo

How fungi could help us remove and store excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It’s not enough anymore to simply cut back on the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere: to address climate change we need to reduce the amount that’s already present there. Though many strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are needed, soil carbon sequestration – a major part of the Australian Government’s plan for net zero emissions by 2050 – can make an important contribution.

The 2018 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival Best Documentary and People’s Choice Award Winner Grassroots follows a journey to bring one such strategy to the world: using fungi to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in agricultural soil. Almost four years since the film’s debut, where is this strategy now?

What is soil carbon sequestration?

Soil carbon sequestration works by removing CO2 that’s already present in our atmosphere and then converting it to a stable form of carbon that can then be stored in the soil long-term. There are different approaches to achieving this, but the one covered in Grassroots explores using endophytic fungi to turn Australia’s vast agricultural land into our largest potential carbon sink.

‘Soil is the largest terrestrial carbon sink on the planet, managed by the people with the most to lose from climate change; farmers,’ said agronomist Guy Webb, featured in Grassroots, to Australia’s Science Channel in 2019. ‘We are hoping that our trials will show that it can be easy and economical for them to transfer carbon from the air and secure it in their soil.’

In the film, the strategy promised to be a quick, globally scalable carbon removal solution that also provided huge benefits to the growers implementing it. But how does it work?

How does carbon sequestration with fungi work?

The strategy is not unlike the already common agricultural practice of inoculating pulse and legume crops with Rhizobia bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.

Instead, a farmer coats their seeds with a microbial inoculum before sowing. This coating contains melanised endophytic fungus, a type of symbiotic fungus that then grows in the roots of the plants after they germinate.

As the plant soaks up CO2 from the atmosphere and produces simple sugars in the soil (in a process called photosynthesis), the fungi work to convert these into melanin – a complex and longer-lasting carbon compound. It’s deposited safely into tiny, compressed particles of soil called microaggregates where, once trapped inside, carbon is stable within the soil and can be stored long-term.

‘Endophytic fungi potentially have a role to play, especially in converting carbon to more stable, melanised forms of carbon that will resist decomposition and stay in the soil longer, thereby enhancing sequestration,’ says Dr Michael Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of Soil CRC, who has over 25 years of experience in research and science management in areas related to soil science.

However, not only do you get the benefits of climate change mitigation by removing excess CO2 from our atmosphere, but soil conditions also improve when enriched with carbon – resulting in increased water retention, nutrient availability, and improved soil structure for root growth.

This is particularly important to Australian growers as agriculture takes place on land that faces challenges with soil quality and water scarcity. But how far has this technology come in the past four years? And is it close to being widely available?

What’s happened since Grassroots?

There have been some exciting developments in the four years since Grassroots was released. Progressing in leaps and bounds, the startup Loam Bio (previously Soil Carbon Co) has raised $50 million from investors since it was formed.

Co-founded by Guy Hudson, Tegan Nock, Frank Oly, Mick Wettenhall, and Guy Webb – names you might recognise from Grassroots – the start-up is based out of Orange in the Central Tablelands of New South Whales. They now employ more than 35 people across four different laboratories and 25 field sites in Australia and the United States.

Photo www.pixabay.com

Loam Bio has been busy researching which inoculum is best at sequestering carbon, taking thousands of fungal samples from all over Australia and sifting through a library of more than 1,500 microbes to put them to the test.

Using bioinformatic analysis to study the microbial genomes, as well as extensive field testing, they’ve also been figuring out which combinations of fungus and bacteria are the most optimal to go to market, so that the product that reaches shelves can be accessible to all farmers.

However, according to Crawford, there are many challenges that need to be addressed if endophytic fungi are going to be effective in practical farming.

‘The comparison with inoculation with Rhizobium bacteria is relevant to an extent, but fungi have many critical differences to bacteria  – size, morphology, life cycle etc,” he says. ‘Success is dependent upon the ability to introduce live microorganisms into a soil environment that experiences an extreme of conditions (wet/dry, hot/cold, acid, sodic etc), and for that fungi to successfully compete for resources against the microorganisms that are endemic (and adapted to) that environment.

‘Obviously, conditions need to be optimum for the endophytic fungi to be introduced successfully such that they survive and prosper. This won’t always be the case.

‘More field trial results are required to determine the consistency of benefits, across a range of soil type, climates, farming systems etc. to better understand the feasibility of implementation. This is starting to happen.’

So, it looks like for now we’ll have to wait and see whether the technology can overcome these hurdles. Luckily, we might not be left waiting for long; In 2021 Tegan Nock, Chief Product Officer at Loam Bio, told ABC News that the company was aiming to have a product widely available on the shelves by 2023.

Photo Kathie Hodge www.flickr.com/photos/cornellfungi

How does using fungi compare to other carbon sequestration practices in Australia?

According to Crawford, saying that endophytic fungi could singlehandedly avert global warming is hyperbole – there is simply no silver bullet when dealing with climate change. Instead, it’s important that we build a larger repertoire of practices, of which carbon soil sequestration with endophytic fungus could make up just one of many strategies.

‘It is critical that research into technologies such as this continue, especially given the emphasis on a technology-led response to climate change,’ says Crawford. ‘In reality, it is likely that practices such as melanised endophytic fungi will make a contribution to soil carbon sequestration, along with practices such as zero tillage, stubble retention, summer cropping, double cropping, perennial pastures, intercropping, removal of soil constraints

etc, but it won’t be the sole solution.

‘Irrespective of the climate change benefits, any practice that leads to higher levels of organic matter in the soil will also result in increased water infiltration and retention, improved soil structure, enhance biological activity and nutrient availability in the longer term, and will be good for soil health and farm productivity more generally.

‘Which is a very good thing.’

This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Imma Perfetto. Imma Perfetto is a science writer at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Science Communication from the University of Adelaide.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Where is the love?

I have lived in Mullum and the surrounding hills for 35 years.  Yesterday I drove to Upper Main Arm, to Kohinur, to visit a friend,...

Flood help information from Chinderah, and Uki to South Golden Beach

The floods in February and March are still having direct impacts on the lives of many people and Serice NSW has a trailer coming to a location near you so you can easily access flood assistance.

Weaving through NAIDOC

DJ and Delta with some of the Weaving for Reconciliation exhibits. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Management of Byron’s fragile coastline impeded by NSW government: report

Insufficient funding and guidance from the State government is inhibiting Byron Council’s attempt to effectively manage its famous but fragile coastline, a Council report has revealed.