Researchers at the University of East Anglia have launched a new project to investigate how a climate-cooling gas is produced in agriculture.
They have installed sensors into fields of barley in Norfolk to gain a better understanding of how agricultural land may act as a source of the gas dimethylsulfide (DMS).
This gas is produced when a molecule called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is degraded by microbes in the soil.
They hope that their work could one day lead to improved crop productivity, food security and even climate change mitigation strategies.
The project will see researchers at UEA work in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Cranfield University.
The scientists have installed low power sensors, developed at Cranfield University, in fields of key crops to measure levels of this important gas in-situ.
These sensors are operating off-grid at Easton College in Norfolk using solar panels - marking some of the latest efforts towards Net Zero scientific experiments.
Lead researcher Dr Ben Miller, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “We want to better understand how much of the climate cooling gas DMS is produced in agriculture.
“And we are also studying how DMSP helps crops tolerate environmental stresses, such as heat and drought, and crop yield.”
Dr Frances Hopkins, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “Once released into the atmosphere, DMS is oxidised and cools our planet through the production of clouds, which act as a barrier and block sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, reflecting it back into space.”
Prof Jon Todd, also from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Marine algae, corals and bacteria are already well-known DMSP producers, but many plants on land also create this molecule, including some at very high levels, like Spartina – a type of saltmarsh grass found in coastal areas.
“However, few agricultural species have been tested for the ability to produce DMSP. Data shows that DMSP is present in the soil around crop roots, and microbial DMS production is similar to levels of those in seawater.”
Dr Rocky Payet, also from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, added: “As a result, the global production of DMSP and DMS from agriculture is likely underestimated, and our new study aims to quantify just how much it could be.”
Dr Miller said: “Working out exactly where and how much DMSP and DMS is produced in agriculture is key to understanding the significance of these processes, how agricultural practices influence them and implications for our climate.
“Our plan is to develop tools to improve crop productivity, food security and provide greener agricultural systems.”
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