Without soil animals such as springtails, horned mites, millipedes and nematodes, our soil would not function. They decompose organic material, regulate the activities of microorganisms and promote the circulation of nutrients and the storage of water. Last but not least, they are essential for food production. Despite their great importance, however, soil invertebrates have hardly been researched. This is precisely where the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG) comes in with its "Metagenomic monitoring of soil communinies (Metalnvert)" project, which aims to contribute to knowledge about their characteristics, function and development over the course of evolution with the help of genetic analyses, involving researchers from LOEWE-TBG, the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, France, Spain and Sweden. The study was published in the journal "Communications Biology" from the "Nature" group of journals. "Soil invertebrates are difficult to record due to their microscopic size and incredible diversity. We suspect that there are still hundreds of thousands of undescribed species worldwide. New genomic analysis methods are now providing completely new insights," says study leader Miklós Bálint, Professor of Functional Environmental Genomics at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Justus Liebig University Giessen and co-spokesperson for LOEWE-TBG.
The scientists are focussing on metagenomics and metatranscriptomics as part of the study. In metagenomics, DNA fragments from a sample are randomly sequenced as it can utilise all genomic information. Metatranscriptomics can be used to detect genes that are actively transcribed into ribonucleic acids (RNA) as important information and function carriers of a cell and thus control ongoing biological processes. This provides information about the metabolic activity of the members of the soil community and about functional changes in these communities.