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"Park Grass" soil - a reference for EU soil forensic science

Soil sampling at Park Grass September 2013

The Park Grass experiment at Rothamsted Research, which is strategically funded by BBSRC, has been described as one of the most important in the world in the area of bio-diversity and bio-ecology. Park Grass is one of a few Long Term Experiments (LTEs) that are run at Rothamsted Research and collectively comprise a National Capability. This particular experiment started in 1856, on a field that had previously been in pasture for at least a century. It is the longest continually studied experiment on ungrazed permanent grassland in the world. More recently it has been the target of the co-ordinated international programmes “Terragenome” and “MetaSoil”. These projects started in 2009 with samples from Park Grass to characterize the genetic information of whole soil microbial communities extracted from environmental samples, a type of analysis also called metagenomics (,

The analyses that have been undertaken as part of these projects have revealed a comprehensive picture of the Park Grass metagenome, with minor spatial and temporal fluctuations in soil communities. Different components of the metagenome were accessed preferentially using contrasting extraction methods. These characteristics have made Park Grass the ideal reference soil to be used for MiSAFE.

The EU is committed in fighting all forms of serious, organised and transnational crime. This commitment to a safe Europe has led to the support of forensic science. Soil, due to its complexity, has been recognised as a useful form of trace evidence in crime investigation. MiSAFE, the full title of which is “Development and Validation of Microbial Soil Community Analyses for Forensic Purposes” is aiming to develop and implement effective protocols and working procedures in soil forensics (

Researchers from Rothamsted and the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen (partners involved in the MiSAFE project) sampled at Park Grass and collected in total 20kg of soil to be shared among partners.

Ian Clark, Rothamsted Research scientist said “We are delighted and very proud that Park Grass soil has been selected to form the reference material for this important EU project. Microbial DNA extracted from soil samples can be used to generate a profile associated to a particular environment (soil type, plant cover etc). However before this can routinely be used for forensic applications, reproducible tools for DNA extraction, sample storage, the degree of environmental variation and issues of sample size need to be addressed. Soil from the iconic Park Grass experiment, with its well characterized botanical diversity and soil metagenome, will be an invaluable asset for the MiSAFE project. 


Notes to Editors

Delmont,T.O., Prestat e., Keegan, K.R., Faubladier, M., Robe P., Clark, I.M., Pelletier, E., Hirsch, P.R., Meyer, F., Gilbert, J.A., Paslier, D.L., Simonet, P. and Vogel, T.M. (2012) Structure, fluctuation and magnitude of a natural grassland soil metagenome. The ISME Journal 6: 1677-1687.

Delmont,T.O., Robe P., Clark, I.M., Simonet, P. and Vogel, T.M. (2011) Metagenomic comparison of direct and indirect soil DNA extraction approaches. J. of Microbiological Methods 86: 397-400

Vogel T.M., Simonet P, Jansson J, Hirsch PR, Tiedje JM, Van Elsas JD, Bailey MJ, Nalin R and Philippot L. 2009. TerraGenome: a consortium for the sequencing of a soil metagenome. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 7: 252.

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We are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. Our mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Our strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.
Rothamsted Research is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)


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Funded by Government, BBSRC invested £473M in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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