News & Insights

The Science Behind It: Journey of a Soil Sample

“The Science Behind It” is an educational video series by Dr. Tuesday Simmons, science writer at Trace Genomics. It was created to illuminate the scientific foundations of soil microbiology that form the basis of Trace technology. This video takes you through the journey of what happens when you ship your soil samples to the Trace Genomics Ames Innovation Center.

Video Script:

So you’ve shipped your soil samples off to Trace Genomics. You’ll get your results in 2-5 business days for chemistry and 10-15 business days for biology, but what’s happening to your soil in the meantime? Let’s dive into the journey of a soil sample.

When your soil arrives at the Trace Genomics Ames Innovation Center in Iowa, it is logged by our receiving department and entered into our custom-built system that tracks the chain of custody throughout the whole process. It’s then sent to sample prep, where the soil is homogenized and subsampled for different workflows.

For chemistry, a portion is used to measure organic matter and soil moisture, and another portion is made into a slurry. The slurry is used to measure all the traditional chemistry metrics you’d expect from a soil test, plus Active Carbon if you ordered it.

Meanwhile, if you requested any other TraceCARBON services, other subsamples of your soil are being used to analyze Total Organic Carbon and Bulk Density.

Last but certainly not least, Trace scientists analyze your soil microbiome using metagenomics . They do this by first breaking open all the microscopic cells, separating the DNA from the other organic and inorganic matter, and then prepping the DNA for sequencing.  As sequencing technology and research has advanced, Trace has upgraded equipment and protocols to provide our customers with the most accurate, comprehensive, and actionable insights available.

The data that comes out of the sequencers are long strings of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs – the letters that make up the language of DNA.  In order to turn this into something that is useful for agronomists, our scientists have developed a protocol that searches through the sequences for 2 different things: the identities of the microbes present, and evidence of important microbial functions.

An average of almost 11,000 species are identified in each sample, so simply giving agronomists a list of species and functions wouldn’t be very helpful either. From this data, we filter it down to microbial species that growers care about (mostly pathogens, but some beneficial microbes), and functions that can impact management decisions on the farm (like phosphorus and nitrogen cycling).

Once all of this is done, your data is uploaded to the TraceVIEW web portal, and you get an email saying it’s ready. From there, you can download your reports containing actionable insights, interact with your data on TraceVIEW Analytics, and use our Field Discovery tool to help with pathogen management and product placement.

About the author: Dr. Tuesday Simmons is the Science Writer at Trace Genomics. She earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley, studying the root microbiome of cereal crops.