The Nature of Soil Organic Matter and Innovative Soil Managements to Fight Global Changes and Maintain Agricultural Productivity

Alessandro Piccolo

Abstract A new era in soil management is emerging on the basis of the novel understanding of soil organic matter (SOM), as a noncovalent supramolecular association of small molecules surviving microbial degradation of plant and animal tissues. The recognition of such molecular nature of humus may have technological implications in agricultural soil management that are yet to be developed. Here we discuss the implications of the supramolecular structure of humus on innovative methods for carbon sequestration in agricultural soil. One method exploits the capacity of humified/hydrophobic matter, such as mature compost amended to soils, to protect from mineralization biolabile hydrophilic molecules rhizodeposited by crops. Another method is the use of biomimetic catalysts to be spread on soils to oxidatively photopolymerize SOM in situ. The formation of intermolecular cova-lent bonds among soil humic molecules increases the chemical energy required by microbes to mineralize SOM. Both methods were verified in their effectiveness in soil before the scaling up of their use on real field trials under agricultural crops.

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