Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Healthy rocks and wildlife farming

24.10.2002


The relationship between rocks and our health, and new methods for farming and countryside management to both encourage wildlife and make a profit, are just two of the exciting research projects highlighted in the latest issue of Planet Earth, the quarterly journal of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The rock diet

Rocks are a vital source of the essential elements and minerals people need to stay healthy. The British Geological Survey (BGS) together with partners in China, Sri Lanka, Morocco and the UK have investigated the health effects of two of these elements, iodine and selenium.



Weathering breaks down rocks to form the soils in which we grow crops and raise farm animals. Most Westerners no longer grow food in their back yards but people in developing countries rely on their immediate surroundings for food. People suffer serious illness if their local soil provides too much or too little of particular minerals or elements.

Iodine is needed for growth hormones formed in the thyroid gland. Most cases of iodine deficiency cause goitre, a condition where the thyroid becomes enlarged as it attempts to compensate for the lack of iodine. Goitre affects about 190 million people worldwide.

Fiona Fordyce, an Environmental Geochemist with the BGS, said, “ In Britain, goitre occurred historically in the Peak District and was known as Derbyshire Neck. People used to think that this was because Derbyshire is a long way from the sea where sources of iodine are abundant. But recent research suggests the chemistry of the limestone environment indirectly prevents the iodine from entering the human food chain.”

She added, “ In China and Morrocco we are examining how iodine moves through the environment or becomes locked in the soils. We want to improve iodine uptake from soils into crops and then into human food. Although medical remedies such as using iodised salt have proved successful in many parts of the world, countries which can’t afford these remedies need alternative ways to get this element.”

According to the World Health Organisation, iodine deficiency is the major cause of preventable mental retardation in the world today, with 1.6 billion people at risk, 50 million children affected and 100,000 sufferers born every year.

Selenium

In the human body selenium acts as an anti-oxidant, preventing tissue damage. People living in the Enshi District in central China show classic symptoms of the effect of selenium on health. The geology in this remote mountainous region can vary from village to village. Some people live on soils derived from coal, which have very high selenium content, while 20km away people living over selenium-poor sandstone rocks have Keshan disease which damages the heart muscles and eventually causes death.

The BGS team collected samples of soil, food crops, drinking water and human hair from areas with low, moderate and high incidences of Keshan disease. Chris Johnson, a Geochemist at BGS, said, “As expected, both the population and the environment were selenium deficient but there was an interesting twist in the results. The villages with the greatest disease problems had the lowest selenium levels in the hair, water and crop samples. But the soil had the highest selenium content – the very opposite to what we were expecting.”

People in the UK are also becoming concerned about the falling levels of selenium in our diet. Bread is one of our main sources of selenium but intakes are going down because Britain no longer imports much wheat from the selenium-rich soils of the North American prairies.


The buzz of biodiversity down on the farm

Satellite technology is helping farmers to make their land environmentally sustainable and profitable.

Dr Richard Pywell and his group from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) teamed up with the Farmed Environment Company to test these new methods. They used satellite Global Positioning System technology to identify areas of a Yorkshire arable farm where extra fertilisers and pesticides had been needed to return a profit. The researchers also conducted a survey of plants, animals and habitats on the 164 hectare Manor Farm. The combined information allowed them to pick out the best areas for environmental enhancement.

Says Dr Pywell, “The farm has created new wildlife habitats, encouraging small animals and insects to take up residence. New hedgerows and a revised crop-harvesting schedule in some fields provides food and havens for birds – there has been a 30% increase in the number of breeding bird territories across the farm over the past two years. And throughout the habitat creation period, the farm has remained profitable!”

Last year the Farmed Environment Company and CEH, together with partners from the farming industry and conservation organisations, launched the Buzz Project. This is a three-year research and technology transfer initiative that aims to test if the findings from the Manor Farm project can be replicated on six other farms. This network of farms will be used as the basis of training packages to help farmers learn some of the environmental skills needed to achieve the Policy Commission’s vision of the countryside.

Marion O’Sullivan | alfa
Further information:
http://www.nerc.ac.uk

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht New research recovers nutrients from seafood process water
31.10.2018 | Chalmers University of Technology

nachricht Plant Hormone Makes Space Farming a Possibility
17.10.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Epoxy compound gets a graphene bump

14.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

Microgel powder fights infection and helps wounds heal

14.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

How algae and carbon fibers could sustainably reduce the athmospheric carbon dioxide concentration

14.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>