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Keywords:

  • AFM;
  • chlorite;
  • dissolution;
  • ectomycorrhizal;
  • fungi

Ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) live in moist dark recesses and never see daylight. They cling to the roots of trees in boreal forests, break down soil minerals and supply essential elements and nutrients to the trees. Along the way, they play a distinct but not yet well-understood role in bioweathering, a process in which water, air, and organisms interact to break down soil minerals within the first few meters of Earth's surface. In a synthetically designed and controlled laboratory environment, Gazzè et al. cultured EMF; the researchers monitored the process as the fungi colonized a soil mineral on a petri dish over a period of 7 months. The authors then extracted individual grains of chlorite, a common soil-forming clay mineral, and cleaned the mineral surfaces to look at how the fungi had affected the mineral surfaces they came in contact with. Using atomic force microscopy, a specialized process that allows observations of three-dimensional features at nanometer (10–9 meter) scales, the authors found numerous primary channels, of the order of a micron (10–6 meters) in width and up to 50 nanometers in depth, from which smaller secondary channels extended outward. The network of channels resembled a herringbone-like pattern—evidence of dissolution by EMF.