Grants: Professor's research to focus on bioavailable nitrogen in plants
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Andrea Jilling, assistant professor of environmental soil chemistry in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has received a $374,590 National Science Foundation grant to study bioavailable nitrogen in plants.
Plants need nitrogen to survive, but it remains a mystery exactly where, when and how plants acquire enough of it from the soil. This dilemma limits productivity and leads to challenges in predicting and managing nitrogen cycling in natural and managed plant systems.
“Our project examines a new, more holistic perspective on the terrestrial nitrogen cycle that encompasses multiple sources of nitrogen from the soil,” said Jilling, whose research will focus on the previously overlooked role of mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM). This matter consists of nutrient-rich material bound to silt and clay particles and could serve as a potential nitrogen source to plants.
Jilling said the overarching goal of the research is to quantify and characterize the capacity of MAOM to supply nitrogen to plants. The study will assess soils varying in geochemical properties using laboratory and greenhouse experiments, which will allow researchers to trace MAOM-derived nitrogen into bioavailable pools.
“This work will address key knowledge gaps in our still-evolving understanding of soil nitrogen dynamics,” Jilling said. “Until now, researchers have speculated or provided mostly indirect evidence for the nitrogen-supplying potential of mineral-associated organic matter. Our experimental design allows us to directly address the mechanisms that provide plants and microbes access to this critical reservoir of nutrients in soil.”
The research will support a doctoral student in the department and an undergraduate student affiliated with the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, which aims to increase the participation of under-represented populations in STEM disciplines. As part of the research, OSU will collaborate with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to develop a student-led workshop and video series on soil biogeochemistry with specific relevance to soil organic matter and MAOM management.
Jilling is the principal investigator for the grant with co-principal investigators Stuart Grandy of the University of New Hampshire and Marco Keiluweit of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The $856,769 grant will be split between the three institutions.