Volatile organic compounds allow sensitive differentiation of biological soil quality: KESS 2 participant Rob Brown publishes first paper in ‘Soil Biology and Biochemistry’ journal.


Bangor University KESS 2 PhD student Rob Brown has published the first paper from his PhD in the journal Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Rob’s paper compares the sensitivity of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with a standard measure of the soil microbial community; phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiling.

As explained in Rob’s recent case study, soil is a finite and non-renewable resource. Consequently, good understanding and management of soil resources is key to sustainable food production as well as the provision of other ecosystem services.

Additionally, soil biology is a crucial driver in the soil system; cycling nutrients, water and organic matter and maintaining soil structure. However, the link between biological soil quality and soil function is not well understood.

Rob says,

“Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are often produced as a by-product of primary metabolism (small molecules directly involved in growth, development, and reproduction of an organism). The VOC profile or ‘volatilome’ consists of a very diverse set of compounds that are often specific to groups of organisms and essentially give a soil sample its smell.

This paper compared the sensitivity of VOCs with a standard measure of the soil microbial community; phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiling. Overall, VOCs showed greater sensitivity than the PLFA analysis in separating soil quality treatments. This demonstrates the potential of VOCs as an indicator of biological soil quality and highlights the need for further research in this field.”

Rob’s PhD research project is supported by KESS 2 European Social Funds (ESF) through the Welsh Government and is supervised by Prof Davey Jones and Prof Dave Chadwick at Bangor University. The full published paper can be viewed at: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1ch0F8g13P-wK

Related links: Case Study: Innovations in soil health analysis