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Melissa LeTourneau Headshot

Melissa LeTourneau

Soil Model Scientist, Ph.D.

What led you to soil science and agroecology? 

I have always enjoyed learning and applying ideas and concepts from multiple disciplines, but I was particularly fascinated by the fact that plants must use their complex physiology to compensate for their inability to physically relocate themselves to more favorable environmental conditions, and the fact that this process is so critical to human society and life on Earth as we know it. Although photosynthesis is sexy, a plant’s ability to adapt in situ to a range of environmental conditions is largely housed in its non-photosynthetic root system, which forms a physical, chemical, and biological continuum with the soil known as the rhizosphere. I fell in love with this life-giving interface between plants and soil ecosystems through my PhD research and gradually branched out to study other aspects of agroecosystems through government and industry research. I deeply appreciate the breathtaking complexity of soils and agroecosystems, their significance to our society, and the fact that there will always be more to learn about them.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist?

I get to contribute to the evolution of knowledge by thinking critically about facts, discovering new facts, and overturning old facts. I accomplish this via creative and collaborative strategies involving the acquisition, analysis, interpretation, and extrapolation of data. Data must be handled through this partially subjective process before yielding any facts.

What is one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in agriculture/data? 

Soil science and agroecology demand the application of knowledge from mathematics, physics, organic and inorganic chemistry, geology, hydrology, microbiology, plant physiology, genetics, software engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, economics, sociology, and probably many other disciplines that I have not considered. There is room for everyone in agricultural research.

What do you think we should do to encourage more people to pursue careers in science? 

Convince people that their perspectives are valued, that they can learn and ask whatever they choose, that knowledge is not fixed, and that they, too, can contribute to its evolution.


I was awarded the opportunity to conduct a portion of my PhD research at Argonne and Pacific Northwest National Labs through the DOE Office of Science SCGSR Program and through general user proposals to the Advanced Photon Source and Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab user facilities.

Published Articles 

  • LeTourneau et al. (in review, Front Microbiol) Soil legacy effects and host selection of rhizosphere microbiomes linked to take-all disease of wheat
  • Casanova et al. (2024) Design and test of a subsurface fluid lime applicator.  Appl Eng Agric 40: 351
  • Casanova et al. (2023) Remote-sensing-based sampling design and prescription mapping for soil acidity. Remote Sens 15: 3105
  • LeTourneau et al. (2019) Phenazine-1-carboxylic acid-producing bacteria enhance the reactivity of iron minerals in dryland and irrigated wheat rhizospheres. Environ Sci Technol 53: 14273
  • LeTourneau et al. (2018) Phenazine-1-carboxylic acid and soil moisture influence biofilm development and turnover of rhizobacterial biomass on wheat root surfaces. Environ Microbiol 20: 2178
  • Yang et al. (in review, Phytobiomes) Seasonal and long-term temporal dynamics of dryland and irrigated wheat microbiomes
  • Mavrodi et al. (2021) Root exudates alter the expression of diverse metabolic, transport, regulatory, and stress response genes in rhizosphere Pseudomonas. Front Microbiol 12: 651282
  • Thomashow et al. (2019) The soil-borne legacy in the age of the holobiont. Microb Biotechnol 12: 51
  • Lewis et al. (2018) ‘Concord’ grapevine nutritional status and chlorosis rank associated with fungal and bacterial root zone microbiomes. Plant Physiol Biochem 129: 429
  • Shi et al. (2014) Cation uptake and allocation by red pine seedlings under cation-nutrient stress in a column growth experiment. Plant Soil 378: 83

Past Speaking Engagements 

What brought you to CIBO? 

I was most attracted to the opportunity to work with this team and learn more about cropping systems modeling. I would also like to support the refinement and expansion of CIBO’s crop models as a functional repository of the knowledge that will be needed to develop, incentivize, and implement more sustainable agricultural management practices.

What are your primary responsibilities at CIBO? 

I am focused on model development and improvement, especially in terms of how soil processes are represented in the models and how the models can be used to predict soil conservation outcomes.

What do you find the most rewarding about your work here? 

This is a great team to work with. There is no limit to what I can learn or to what knowledge I can apply here.


About Melissa LeTourneau

Melissa LeTourneau is a Soil Model Scientist at CIBO, a science-driven software startup. Prior to CIBO, she worked as a Soil Biogeochemist at Ginkgo Bioworks and Research Soil Scientist at the USDA. She holds a Ph.d from Washington State University in Soil Chemistry and Microbiology, a B.A. from Oregon State University in Computer Science and a B.S. from Indiana University in Geological Sciences.