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Q&A with Dr. Ian Pepper on Innovative Uses for LuminUltra’s ATP Technology

Dave Tracey, LuminUltra’s Director of Strategic Sales Channels, sat down with Dr. Ian Pepper, Professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of Arizona, to talk about how he’s taken LuminUltra’s microbial monitoring technology into a new and exciting application – soil microbiology. His career has focused on soil and water quality, and most recently soil health which has become a very large issue in the agriculture industry. Read on to see how Dr. Pepper leveraged our 2nd Generation ATP technology to unearth some great potential in soil microbiology.

For somebody that might be unfamiliar with the science of soil microbiology, can you describe your work and how our technology has fit into it?

Ian: Most people are unaware of the complexity of soil. They consider it to be just dirt. They don’t realize that all soils contain billions of microorganisms that affect every aspect of our daily life. These microorganisms especially bacteria also reflect soil health and an active microbial community. When soil is healthy, it is the most productive. LuminUltra’s tests have provided an easy way to measure soil health through its ability to measure ATP, and more specifically AMP.

What advantages do you feel that our microbial monitoring tools have given you compared to traditional methods?

Ian: We’ve seen that the amount of ATP measured in the soil gives a good indication of the “potential energy” of the community relative to AMP which you can think of as used energy. Soil communities with lots of ATP and a low AMP Index are happy and stress free, and with this measurement essentially available in real time, it is a huge advantage compared to traditional monitoring such as dilution and plating. Compared to traditional microbiological tests, plating has historically been the gold standard for looking at microbial numbers in soils and water. However, it takes a long time to get results – maybe three to four days. Also it is well known that they only measure less than 1 percent of the total microbial population.

Based on what you’ve seen how do you think this will benefit the agriculture industry?

Ian: Because the LuminUltra kit is portable, it can be taken to a farm and used to evaluate the farmer’s soil health in less than 10 minutes. In water scant areas it can also be used to pinpoint exactly when farmers need to irrigate thus reducing water usage. This is a big advantage.

In terms of the path forward in your research, what other situations do you hope to investigate?

Ian: The ultimate goal is to see if there are correlations between crop yields and the AMP index. So the AMP index could be the answer to the Holy Grail for soil scientists – the ability to quantify soil health.

At LuminUltra, we’re focused on identifying and understanding microbes in a variety of samples, including soil.  If this story piqued your interest, read on to find out how a graduate student at Dalhousie University made an amazing microbe discovery in soil.


Dave Tracey

Dave has been with LuminUltra since Day 1 and is proud to have been able to contribute from its early days as a small start-up to the company that it is today. He has served in a wide range of roles during that time, from producing reagent and conducting laboratory experiments through to his current position. Nothing is more important to Dave than family, whether it’s his two young sons or his fellow Sales & Marketing teammates. In both cases, he’s well aware that he wouldn’t be much without them. Originally a graduate of the Chemical Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick, his alma mater has come full circle 14 years later with Dave now serving as a mentor for final year ChE students during their senior plant design projects.

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