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FiBL project

Title Soil, fertilizer and plant analyses
FiBL project number 10n03

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture is running laboratories in the areas of

  • Field sample preparation
  • Soil and plant analyses
  • Microbiology and microscopy
  • Molecular biology
  • Phytopathology
  • Veterinary parasitology

The laboratories at FiBL are used by researchers of all departments. The Department of Soil Sciences is responsible for and working a lot in the first four laboratories. FiBL has also modern climate chambers, a greenhouse and is well equipped for field research in crop and soil science. Cooling rooms, deep freezers and incubators as well as large storage capacities are available.

Soil and Plant samples are prepared for lab analyses by homogenizing, sieving, milling, and drying routines in the lab for field sample preparation. Here samples are prepared for any other analysis to follow.

Soil and plant analyses
Analyses performed in the laboratory for soil and plant analyses are mostly extractions or fractionations of the original sample. Soil extracts for plant nutrients are performed here and also the extraction of biochemical markers and molecules. Techniques used are generally in accordance with the Swiss reference methods (Agroscope).

Detailed Description

Available apparatus:

  • TOC/TNb analyser (analyticjena)
  • with additional furnance for C-determination in solids.
  • Automatic titration unit (Metrohm)
  • Photometer (Perkin Elmer)
  • Extractor for fibres and lignin (Foss fibertec)
  • Steam distillation (Büchi)
  • Kjeldahl digester (Foss tecator)
  • Rotovapor (Büchi) with vacuum pump
  • Centrifuge (Sigma)
  • Gaschromatograph coupled with a quadrupol mass spectrometer GC-MS (Agilent technologies)
  • Gaschromatograph for Greenhouse-gas analysis. (Agilent/Gerstel)
  • Atom-Absorption-Spectrometer (Perkin Elmer) for  K, Ca, Mg
  • Flow inject analyser (Skalar) for (NH4, NO3 (Nmin) Phosphates
  • Oven, shakers, drying stove, balances, volumetric, extractor hood,
  • Lyophilisation
  • High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) including scanner for quantification of secondary metabolites (Camac)

Soil analyses:

  • Soil chemistry
    • pH
    • electrical conductivity
  • Plant nutrients:
    • NH4, NO3 (Nmin)
    • Corg and Ntot are analysed in accredited labs
    • P, K, Ca, Mg are analysed in accredited labs, but techniques for soluble and reserve nutrients are established
  • Soil organic matter fractions:
    • density fractionation
    • size fractionation
    • humic/fulvic acids
    • dissolved organic carbon/nitrogen (DOC, TNb)
  • Maximum water holding capacity (MWK)
  • Soil aggregate stability (wet sieving)
  • Soil microbial biomass:
    • fumigation-extraction method (TOC/TNb in extracts)
    • total PLFA content (Bligh-Dyer extraction followed by GCMS analysis)
    • substrate induced respiration (SIR) method
    • total DNA content
  • Soil microbial activities:
    • dehydrogenase activity (TTC reduction)
    • acid and alkaline phosphatase activity
    • soil respiration (static chamber, CO2-titration)
  • Microbial communities
    • community level substrate utilisation (CLSU, Biolog)
    • phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) and ether lipids (PLEL)
    • DNA and RNA analysis (available, but not yet established for soil samples)

Plant analyses:

  • Nutrient content:
    • Ntotal (Kjeldahl)
    • Total contents of P, K, Ca, Mg, Na
  • Protein analysis (amino acid patterns by HPTLC in development, ELISA test kit)
  • Dietary fodder analysis (Weende, van Soest)
    • crude/detergent fiber
    • cellulose
    • hemicellulose
    • lignin

Microbiology and Microscopy
This laboratory is equipped with all necessary devices to work with common environmental microbial species. The lab is also used for staining microbial structures in soil and plant matrices.
Available apparatus:

  • Autoclave
  • Clean benches (SKAN)
  • Microscope (Leitz)
  • Binocular (Leica) incl. image evaluation
  • Incubators
  • Homogenizer with extraction bags (BioReba)
  • Elisa plate washer (BioReba)
  • Microplate reader (Dynex)
  • Image evaluation (Lemnatec)


  • Root colonisation with mycorrhiza:
    • Staining techniques
    • Quantification (microscope, binocular)
  • Soil suppressiveness – bio-assays
  • Soil suppressiveness –plant-microbe interactions
  • Test of plant extracts for antifungal activity
  • Isolation and multiplication of rhizobiaHost – Rhizobium ssp. interactions

Molecular Biology

This laboratory was recently installed and is equipped with all necessary apparatus to work with DNA and RNA extraction, purification and amplification.
Available apparatus:

  • Real time quantitative PCR including melting point analysis
  • Pipet robot
  • Experimental PCR
  • Gel electrophoresis
  • Video camera
  • Photometer
  • Liquid nitrogen
  • Cooled centrifuge for microplates
  • - 80°C  freezer


  • Identification of parasites of insect larvae by DNA analysis
  • Identification of soil-borne diseases/pathogens
  • Resistance test of plant genotypes
  • RNA expression pattern of systemic resistance
Project status ongoing
FiBL project leader/ contact
Role of FiBL

Die FiBL Labors sind einzelnen Departementen zugeteilt. Das Analytiklabor gehört zum De-partement Bodenwissenschaften. Hier werden Dienstleistungen für zahlreiche Projekte er-bracht. Es lässt sich daher nicht einem Projekt zuordnen.

Research area
Date modified 19.06.2019
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