Gene-Centric Model Approaches for Accurate Prediction of Pesticide Biodegradation in Soils
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Pesticides are widely used in agriculture despite their negative impact on ecosystems and human health. Biogeochemical modeling facilitates the mechanistic understanding of microbial controls on pesticide turnover in soils. We propose to inform models of coupled microbial dynamics and pesticide turnover with measurements of the abundance and expression of functional genes. To assess the advantages of informing models with genetic data, we developed a novel "gene-centric" model and compared model variants of differing structural complexity against a standard biomass-based model. The models were calibrated and validated using data from two batch experiments in which the degradation of the pesticides dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) were observed in soil. When calibrating against data on pesticide mineralization, the gene-centric and biomass-based models performed equally well. However, accounting for pesticide-triggered gene regulation allows improved performance in capturing microbial dynamics and in predicting pesticide mineralization. This novel modeling approach also reveals a hysteretic relationship between pesticide degradation rates and gene expression, implying that the biodegradation performance in soils cannot be directly assessed by measuring the expression of functional genes. Our gene-centric model provides an effective approach for exploiting molecular biology data to simulate pesticide degradation in soils.
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