Soil health—a new challenge for microbiologists and chemists


  • M. Enriqueta Arias Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, University of Alcalà (Madrid), Spain
  • José A. González-Pérez Natural Resources and Agrobiology Institute of Sevilla, CSIC, Spain
  • Francisco J. González-Vila Natural Resources and Agrobiology Institute of Sevilla, CSIC, Spain
  • Andrew S. Ball Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK


soil health, microbial indicators, chemical indicators, molecular methods, analytical methods


Soil health refers to the biological, chemical, and physical features of soil that are essential to long-term, sustainable agricultural productivity with minimal environmental impact. Thus, soil health provides an overall picture of soil functionality. Although it cannot be measured directly, soil health can be inferred by measuring specific soil properties (e.g. organic matter content) and by observing soil status (e.g. fertility). There is also increased interest in studying soil microorganisms in their particular environments, as microbial diversity is intimately related to soil structure and function. One of the key objectives in determining soil health is to acquire indicators that can be used to evaluate the soil’s current status and hence to develop sustainable agricultural systems. In this regard, significant progress has been made over the last few years in the development of specific biomarkers and macromolecular probes, enabling rapid and reliable measurements of soil microbial communities. In addition, modern molecular biological techniques, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), have facilitated the analysis of microbial biodiversity and activity, whereas the application of modern analytical techniques, such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and pyrolysisgas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS), have provided data on soil chemistry. The combination of these two approaches offers promise in determining soil health status. [Int Microbiol 2005; 8(1):13-21]






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