The invisible life under our feet

The invisible life under our feet


Soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem that is home to an immense number of micro-organisms, some of which are invisible to the naked eye. These tiny creatures, such as bacteria, fungi and other microbes, play a key role in soil health and therefore crop productivity and ecosystem sustainability. In this article, we explore the importance of microbes in soil health and how their diversity and functions affect our ability to feed an ever-growing population.

The invisible life under our feet

The decomposition of organic matter

One of the most important functions of soil microbes is the decomposition of organic matter. Plant residues, animal remains and other organic materials are broken down by enzymes produced by microorganisms and converted into essential nutrients that plants can use. This decomposition is fundamental to nutrient cycling and the availability of vital elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are essential for plant growth.

The invisible life under our feet

Nutrient cycling

Soil microbes also play a key role in nutrient cycling. Some bacteria and fungi have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into forms that plants can use. Other microorganisms are involved in mineral solubilisation, releasing nutrients trapped in inaccessible compounds. Microbes are also involved in the transformation and availability of other essential nutrients such as phosphorus, sulphur and micronutrients.

Symbiotic interactions

Soil microorganisms also form symbiotic relationships with plants. For example, mycorrhizae are mutualistic associations between fungi and plant roots. These symbioses improve nutrient uptake, particularly phosphorus, and increase plant resistance to stress. In addition, certain soil bacteria form beneficial associations with plant roots, providing protection against pathogens and stimulating plant growth.

Plant disease control

Soil microbes also play a role in plant disease control. Some antagonistic bacteria and fungi are able to suppress the growth of pathogens, thereby preventing the spread of disease. These beneficial microorganisms may produce antimicrobial compounds or compete for resources, thus limiting the ability of pathogens to establish and multiply in the soil.

The invisible life under our feet

Improve soil structure

Microbial activity contributes to the formation and stability of soil structure. Some microorganisms produce sticky substances, such as exopolysaccharides, which help to bind soil particles into aggregates, improving their porosity and water-holding capacity. This soil structure promotes root growth, facilitates air and water circulation and provides a suitable environment for soil life.

The invisible life under our feet


Soil microbes are truly invisible players that play a vital role in the health and productivity of our soils. Their diversity and activities are fundamental to the decomposition of organic matter, nutrient cycling, symbiotic interactions with plants, disease control and improvement of soil structure. Recognising the importance of these micro-organisms helps us to appreciate the complexity and fragility of soil ecosystems and motivates us to adopt sustainable agricultural practices that promote their conservation and enhancement. Ultimately, by caring for and nurturing soil microbial life, we can ensure healthy and sustainable food production for future generations.

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