What Are Enzymes
And What Do They Do?
Enzymes are the tools that soil microbes use to make nutrients available for microbial and plant uptake. Plants don’t have mouths, and they can only take up nutrients by absorbing them through their cell wall. Enzymes are critical components to support plant growth because most of the organic material in soils and soilless media are too big and insoluble for plants to take up. Therefore, nutrients must first be broken into smaller molecules that the plants can use. To accomplish this, microbes produce enzymes– which are specialized proteins that catalyze the breakdown of large molecules into smaller molecules– and release them into the environment to break down nutrients into smaller forms that plants can uptake!
Enzymes are critical components to support plant growth because most of the organic material in soils and soilless media are too big and insoluble for plants to take up.
Soil microbes produce the enzymes that cycle nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients to feed plants.
Using beneficial microbes will maximize plant nutrient uptake, development, quality and yield! In our research, we discovered that plant species influence microbial production of enzymes. For example, plants seem to influence microbes to produce nitrogen degrading enzymes, or phosphorus degrading enzymes so that plants can acquire the right amounts of each nutrient that they need to grow. Microbes help plants get the nutrients they need!
Bell, C. W., B. E. Fricks, J. D. Rocca, J. M. Steinweg, S. K. McMahon, and M. D. Wallenstein. 2013. High-throughput fluorometric measurement of potential soil extracellular enzyme activities. Journal of Visualized Experiments. doi 10:50961.
Bell, C., Y. Carrillo, C. M. Boot, J. D. Rocca, E. Pendall, and M. D. Wallenstein. 2014. Rhizosphere stoichiometry: are C: N: P ratios of plants, soils, and enzymes conserved at the plant species‐level? New Phytologist 201:505-517.
Bell, C., M. Stromberger, and M. Wallenstein. 2014. New insights into enzymes in the environment. Biogeochemistry 117:1-4.
Burns, R. G., J. L. DeForest, J. Marxsen, R. L. Sinsabaugh, M. E. Stromberger, M. D. Wallenstein, M. N. Weintraub, and A. Zoppini. 2013. Soil enzymes in a changing environment: current knowledge and future directions. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 58:216-234.
Nannipieri P, Kandeler E, and Ruggiero P. 2002. Enzyme activities and microbiological and biochemical processes in soil. Enzymes in the environment Marcel Dekker, New York:1-33.
Sinsabaugh RL, Carreiro MM, and Alvarez S. 2002. Enzyme and microbial dynamics of litter decomposition. Enzymes in the Environment, Activity, Ecology, and Applications Marcel Dekker, New York, Basel:249-265.
Sinsabaugh, R. L., C. L. Lauber, M. N. Weintraub, B. Ahmed, S. D. Allison, C. Crenshaw, A. R. Contosta, D. Cusack, S. Frey, and M. E. Gallo. 2008. Stoichiometry of soil enzyme activity at global scale. Ecology Letters 11:1252-1264.
Wallenstein, M. D. and M. N. Weintraub. 2008. Emerging tools for measuring and modeling the in situ activity of soil extracellular enzymes. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 40:2098-2106.
Wallenstein, M. D., M. L. Haddix, D. D. Lee, R. T. Conant, and E. A. Paul. 2011. A litter-slurry technique elucidates the key role of enzyme production and microbial dynamics in temperature sensitivity of organic matter decomposition. Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
Wallenstein, M. D., S. K. Mcmahon, and J. P. Schimel. 2009. Seasonal variation in enzyme activities and temperature sensitivities in Arctic tundra soils. Global Change Biology 15:1631-1639.
Wallenstein, M., S. D. Allison, J. Ernakovich, J. M. Steinweg, and R. Sinsabaugh. 2011. Controls on the temperature sensitivity of soil enzymes: a key driver of in situ enzyme activity rates. Soil Enzymology:245-258.