Sustainable microbes for urban horticultural soils

Grantham Scholar Miles Bate-Weldon’s PhD research explores the effect of zinc in soils to improve the potential of urban food production.

The project

A major barrier to sustainably improving food security for a growing global population is the availability of suitable space for horticulture. Urban areas offer a potential solution to increase availability of land for growing horticultural crops local to the majority of consumers. However, these soils are prone to accumulation of pollutants, including heavy metals. Zinc is particularly prevalent in soils used for urban horticulture due to the unregulated use by growers of manures and pesticides which contain zinc, as well as from atmospheric deposition from transport and industry.

The impacts of increasing zinc concentration on soil health and functionality, including the function of soil-borne plant symbiotic microbes, are unknown. Using techniques such as radio-isotope tracing, field sampling and DNA sequencing and various other molecular biological methods, I will investigate the effect of environmentally relevant concentrations of zinc in soils on the diversity and roles of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This is a near ubiquitous group of soil microbes that form nutritional symbioses with nearly all plants, including most food crops, in facilitating plant nutrient uptake. Additionally these symbioses can increase a plant’s resilience to various different stresses such as drought and insect herbivory.

Very little is known about how the functionality of AMF species are altered according to their environment, and with such vital ecological roles it is important to understand how the land management in urban horticultural soils impact on these microbes in order to fully unlock the potential of urban food production.

Outreach

Biofest (2023)

Miles worked with local schools and an artist to create a short film highlighting his PhD research and how it related to the global challenge of ensuring sustainable food security.

PubHD (2023)

A public outreach event where Miles explained his research to the general public in a talk using a paper flipboard with no slides to communicate the type of work carried out by scientists at the University.

PPS Comms committee

Facilitating internal and external seminar speakers. Miles also runs a ‘meet the speaker’ session after every seminar aimed at improving the networking opportunities of early career researchers.

Publications

Miles contributed to the POSTNote titled ‘The Future of Horticulture’.

Supervisor

Co-Supervisors