Richard G. Burns, Jared L. DeForest, Jürgen Marxsen, Robert L. Sinsabaugh, Mary E. Stromberger, Matthew D. Wallenstein, Michael N. Weintraub, Annamaria Zoppini
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.
This review focuses on some important and challenging aspects of soil extracellular enzyme research. We report on recent discoveries, identify key research needs and highlight the many opportunities offered by interactions with other microbial enzymologists. The biggest challenges are to understand how the chemical, physical and biological properties of soil affect enzyme production, diffusion, substrate turnover and the proportion of the product that is made available to the producer cells. Thus, the factors that regulate the synthesis and secretion of extracellular enzymes and their distribution after they are externalized are important topics, not only for soil enzymologists, but also in the broader context of microbial ecology. In addition, there are many uncertainties about the ways in which microbes and their extracellular enzymes overcome the generally destructive, inhibitory and competitive properties of the soil matrix, and the various strategies they adopt for effective substrate detection and utilization. The complexity of extracellular enzyme activities in depolymerising macromolecular organics is exemplified by lignocellulose degradation and how the many enzymes involved respond to structural diversity and changing nutrient availabilities. The impacts of climate change on microbes and their extracellular enzymes, although of profound importance, are not well understood but we suggest how they may be predicted, assessed and managed. We describe recent advances that allow for the manipulation of extracellular enzyme activities to facilitate bioremediation, carbon sequestration and plant growth promotion. We also contribute to the ongoing debate as to how to assay enzyme activities in soil and what the measurements tell us, in the context of both traditional methods and the newer techniques that are being developed and adopted. Finally, we offer our collective vision of the future of extracellular enzyme research: one that will depend on imaginative thinking as well as technological advances, and be built upon synergies between diverse disciplines.