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Biochar quiets microbe conversations

Tool created to conduct two biochar experiments in the same dish

Rice University graduate student Shelly Hsiao-Ying Cheng shows the tool she created with Rice associate professor of biochemistry and cell biology Joff Silberg to conduct two experiments in the same dish: One where biochar, a charcoal that is produced typically from waste wood, manure or leaves, had a chance to interfere with a microbial conversation and another where it did not. In this study, the first of its kind, the researchers used synthetic biology to study how biochar can interfere with the chemical signals that some soil microorganisms use to communicate and interact with plants.

The study is the latest from Rice's interdisciplinary Biochar Research Group, which formed in the wake of Hurricane Ike in 2008 when the city of Houston called for ideas about how to get rid of the estimated 5.6 million cubic yards of fallen trees, broken branches and dead greenery left behind by the storm. The Rice Biochar Group won a $10,000 grand prize in the city's "Recycle Ike" contest and used the money to jump-start a wide-ranging research program that has since received support from the National Science Foundation (grant EAR 09-11685), the Department of Energy, Rices Faculty Initiative Fund, Rices Shell Center for Sustainability and Rices Institute of Bioscience and Bioengineering.

To read more about this research, see the Rice news release Biochar quiets microbes, including some plant pathogens. (Date of Image: September 2013)

Credit: Jeff Fitlow, Rice University
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