Seminar - John Crawford - Self-organisation in the soil-microbe complex
Thursday 25 June 2009, 12.00 noon - 1.00 pm
Civil Engineering Lecture Theatre 1
The School of Civil Engineering is pleased to welcome Professor John Crawford, who was appointed as the inaugural Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 2008, to present a seminar.
John will present a seminar on Self-organisation in the soil-microbe complex and provide an opportunity for discussion on shared research opportunities in the area of sustainability.
The pore-scale physical architecture of soil determines many of the functions that allow soil to support life. This includes diffusive and convective transport processes and the capacity for air and water to co-exist over a wide range of environmental conditions. As well as supporting the above-ground terrestrial environment, soil structure provides the habitat for an enormous diversity and abundance of microorganisms. These microbes perform all of the essential biological functions of soil including the reprocessing of dead material into a form available for primary production, and the cycling of key nutrients. As a by-product of this activity, microbes release compounds into the soil that affect the binding of soil particles and the physical properties of water. The fact that structure affects the transport of nutrients and oxygen to the microbes, and the microbes themselves can affect the binding of soil particles opens up the opportunity of a feedback between microbial activity and soil structural genesis.
We have explored this potential link and have evidence that microbes can re-engineer the pore-scale structure of soil at scales that are important for its biophysical properties. In this talk I will discuss these results along with a model for the interaction between microbial activity and soil structure that suggests the system has the capacity for self-organisation. The consequences for food and water security and the role of carbon sequestration are discussed in the context of future work.
About John Crawford
''I’m interested in how hierarchical organisation emerges from complex networks of interactions. My research is focused on understanding how interaction networks in cells and ecosystems sustain primary production and how they can be optimised and supported indefinitely.''
John Crawford was awarded the prestigious Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney in 2008. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University and Glasgow and a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from the University of London. He has published more than 100 papers in international peer-reviewed journal articles with over 1700 citations.
Some research highlights include the theoretical prediction and first empirical evidence for self-organisation in the soil-microbe system (Science, Nature Reviews), the development of a general theory of biodiversity (Nature), the first demonstration of regional-scale gene flow in relation to GMOs (Nature) and the development of the first theoretical ecology of indeterminate systems (Proc. Roy. Soc.).
Earlier highlights include the demonstration that the standard Big Bang theory was inconsistent with observed local scale structure (Nature) and the discovery of clouds on Venus (Nature) that is the subject of the current Venus Express space mission.
In the UK John chaired the main funding committee responsible for supporting research in sustainable agriculture, diet and health and he has written several policy documents that have changed the way the UK delivers interdisciplinary science. He has also served on the UK Research Council strategy panels for both sustainable agriculture, and research at the interface between physical and life sciences. He has been invited to become a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in recognition for services to mathematics in 2003, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2007 in recognition of his contribution to science.
John Crawford's homepage