Marschner Review

Plant and Soil

, Volume 375, Issue 1, pp 1-19

First online:

Organic N molecules in the soil solution: what is known, what is unknown and the path forwards

  • Charles R. WarrenAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney Email author 



Many biological questions about N availability and the N cycle require knowledge of the abundance and identity of molecules comprising the pool of organic N. Moreover, basic knowledge of the molecular composition of the soil solution can give rise to new hypotheses via data-driven or inductive reasoning.


This paper examines the composition of organic N molecules in the soil solution. Our perception of organic N in the soil solution is shaped by analytical approaches, and thus I briefly review approaches for sampling and analysis of the soil solution. I give examples of hypotheses generated by knowledge of the molecular composition of organic N and conclude by suggesting priorities for future research.


Studies of the molecular composition of organic N are very much in their infancy. Amino acids, their oligomers and polymers are consistently large components of the pool of organic N. The soil solution also contains organic N compounds from at least another 12 compound classes, but almost nothing is known about their functional significance. Uncovering the role of these other compounds in the N cycle would enrich our understanding of organic N and the N cycle, and place studies of amino acids and their polymers in a broader context.


Soil Peptide Organic N Nitrogen Amino acid