To untangle the complexities of the carbon cycle, Trent Northen, Interim Division Director of Environmental Genomics & Systems Biology, is using the biocrust system to examine the specific metabolites in soil and how microbes target these compounds. Instead of looking at them in broad groups, Northen is studying the specific relationship between the diversity of soils metabolites and the diversity of microbes. In a study published Sept. 22 in Nature Communications, a team led by Northen used seven bacterial isolates from desert biocrusts and cultivated in them in what Northen describes as “a virtual smorgasbord” of metabolites containing almost 500 compounds. Northen and his collaborators deployed a set of tools that he calls “exometabolomics” which harnesses the analytical capabilities of the latest mass spectrometry techniques to quantitatively measure how each microbes and the biocrust community transforms complex mixtures of metabolites, in this case, from soil. Read the whole story at the Berkeley Lab News Center.