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Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Lab


As part of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester, we have access to advanced analytical laboratory equipment based in the laboratories in the Michael Smith building.

These facilities allow us to conduct a wide range of research involving various techniques, as well as grow smaller scale experiments in controlled conditions.

Due to the nature of our work and necessity to take measurements out in the field, we also have a fully equipped state of the art gas lab, and a variety of portable field equipment.

Completed in 2020, the Faculty of Science and Engineering has developed a new research facility at the botanical experimental grounds at the University’s Fallowfield campus. This includes a state-of-the-art plant and soil research facility which will help to deliver excellent quality research into key strategic areas of food security and the impacts of climate change.

Analytical laboratory

Scientific equipment sat in a white lab.

The analytical lab contains instruments such as a SEAL AA3 AutoAnalyser, Shimadzu TOC-L, Elementar Vario EL cube, which allow us to measure various nutrients including but not limited to ammonia, nitrate and carbon. We measure fungal to bacterial ratios using a PLFA extraction method and analysed on an Agilent Gas Chromatograph 7890A. Quantitative morphological measurements are made of roots using our flatbed scanner and the WinRhizo plant image analysis software. Greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide) are measured using an Agilent Gas Chromatograph 7890A fitted with two detectors (FID and ECD).

Aseptic work

Fungal cultures in petri dishes.

Many of our past and current projects involve the use of mycorrhizal fungi. Over the years we have amassed a substantial collection of fungal cultures. Predominantly ectomycorrhizal (ECM, largely associated with trees) but also some ericoid-mycorrhiza (ERM, largely associated with shrubs). This collection is steadily growing through ongoing projects and through collaborations with other institutions.

Climate controlled work

Lots of palm-like plants in small planting pots.

Our lab currently has:

  • five SG1000 (Weisz technik – Fitotron)
  • two CLF  AF-66L (Percival)
  • one Adaptis 1000 (Conviron)
  • two MC1750 (SNIDERS) with CO2 control
  • one PL3 (Leek)

These growth chambers of varying size and use are being utilised for pot experiments. The ability to control environmental variables enables us to mimic future climatic changes.

The Firs environmental research station

Aerial view of the FIRS Environmental Research Centre.

The Firs is located on the University’s Fallowfield campus, approximately three miles south of the main campus. Historically, the site was part of Sir Joseph Whitworth’s gardens where he carried out tests during the development of his famous Whitworth rifle. The site houses a suite of facilities for environmental research and monitoring.

GasLab (Gladiss)

The GasLab (a white Mercedes Sprinter) mobile laboratory parked in a green field.

Our GasLab Gladiss (Gas Lab Automated Dynamic Isotope Survey System) is a field deployable state of the art mobile laboratory. It can run self-sufficient with the aid of a generator and can house a 13C Picarro gas analyser, a 15N2O LGR isotopic analyser and a NH4 LGR analyser. It also has its own MET sensor to record weather data in real time. The ability to use up to 12 automatic soil chambers (Eosense) gives us the ability to measure for prolonged periods over 24 h periods.

Imaging suite

A close-up of a microscope lens.

Our imaging suite is comprised of standard dissecting and compound microscopes, but also a dissecting microscope with full colour camera (Leica S9i) and a fluorescent compound microscope with built in black/white camera (Leica, MM2500 LED). These are state of the art instruments used for soil micro-fauna and ectomycorrhizal identification and colonisation estimation.

Molecular room

Scientific equipment set up in a lab.

Within our laboratories in the Michael Smith building, we have a separate dedicated room for molecular work. The molecular room is fully equipped to enable us to do a range of procedures including soil and plant material extractions, DNA and RNA purification, and PCR.

Radio isotope lab

A screenshot of a computer screen with purple dots on it.

Our radio isotope lab has a 16 x 96-well scintillation counter (Perkin Elmer, 2450 Microplate Counter, MicroBeta2®) and a FUJIFILM FLA-5100 imager. The imager allows us to visually show pathways of radio-isotopically enriched nutrient uptake in plant systems whereas as the scintillation counter enables us to quantify the radio-isotope enrichment of sample extracts.

Stable isotope lab

Screenshot of a computer screen with multiple graphs on it.

The Picarro G2201-i cavity ring down spectrometer analyses gas samples for CO2 and CH4 and their respective 13C isotope ratios. It can be also be used in conjunction with peripheral instruments which enable the analyses of solid (Picarro combustion module) and liquid (IO-instruments Aurora Total Carbon Analyser) samples.

The LGR isotopic N2O analyser can be used to determine 15N isotope and isotopologue concentrations of gas samples. This state of the art cavity rind down spectral analyser can give reliable measurements with as little as 80ml of sample.