European grant for artificial soils research

Scientist Dr Lionel Dupuy has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant to undertake research on a new generation of artificial soils; it is hoped that this would allow researchers to better study the interaction of roots, soil and the microorganisms that live in it – a key battleground in the on-going fight for food security.

Dr Dupuy, of the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group in Dundee, Scotland, was awarded €1.98 million to support a 60-month study combining principles of optics, chemical engineering, physics, chemistry and biology of soils.

“Food production is predicated on the application of nitrogen fertilisers, which can contribute significantly to the production of greenhouse gases and the saturation of agricultural ecosystems. The use of nitrogen fertilisers must therefore be optimised,” Dr Dupuy explained.

“New model soil systems could be used to unravel the spread of soil-borne diseases, the bio-remediation of contaminated soils and the mechanisms underlying soil biodiversity and activity.”

The new project builds on recent development of transparent soils, in collaboration with the University of Abertay, Dundee, and proposes to develop the technology further to visualise transport of nutrients in soils. The new research will ultimately make it possible, for the first time, to unravel nitrogen pathways through soil at the microscopic scale.

ERC Consolidator Grants are highly competitive research grants that are designed to support researchers at the stage at which they are consolidating their own independent research team or programme. The scheme aims to strengthen independent and excellent new individual research teams that have been recently created.

Professor Iain Gordon, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, commented: “Scotland is recognised around the world its excellent applied agricultural science. The James Hutton Institute works with farmers, growers, policy makers and agencies delivers sustainable economic growth though innovation, research and application of new tools and advice.

“The Institute is extremely fortunate have a researcher as bright and talented as Lionel working on how soils affect the ways in which crops grow. Using innovative approaches Lionel is shining a light on the ways that plant roots gather nutrients and water. Ultimately, his insights and findings will help address pressing challenge of feeding the world and saving the planet.”

Dr Lionel Dupuy joined the James Hutton Institute in 2007, after earning his PhD from the University of Bordeaux I (France) and undertaking postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge.

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