Healthy soil for healthy people

Tuesday, 29 March 2005

Researchers at the University of Adelaide's recently established Centre for Soil-Plant Interactions (CSPI) will be striving to capture community awareness of "the importance of healthy soil for healthy people".

Despite its fundamental importance, soil science faces an image problem. Although government funding initiatives have targeted areas that include soil salinity and water quality, the need exists for research in wider areas of soil sustainability, and for education about the related environmental, social and economic issues: the so-called Triple Bottom Line.

"We need to understand the relationships between plants and soil because soil provides the nutrients that all plants use. It is therefore critical in the health of our natural ecosystems and in the quality of the food we eat," says Professor Sally Smith, Director of the CSPI.

The core members of CSPI are researchers from the University's Schools of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Agriculture & Wine, CSIRO Land & Water, the University of Western Australia, and the Research Centre for Eco-environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

CSPI research will focus on the interactions between plants and soil, targeting root growth in the soil environment, rhizosphere biology, plant nutrition and alleviation of stresses imposed by hostile factors such as salinity and contamination by toxic compounds.

"The formation of the centre will ensure Australian and international recognition for the quality and applications of our work.

"It will also provide a platform from which to build secure and adequate funding and a formal mechanism to strengthen existing research and teaching networks, both within Australia and internationally," Professor Smith said.

"Our research extends from fundamental science to plant production and we will use the knowledge to help find ways to increase crop productivity, reduce fertiliser requirements and to keep toxic chemicals like arsenic and cadmium out of our food.

"It will also increase our understanding of natural environments, and the way they depend on underground processes."

In launching the centre, Professor Neville Marsh, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, quoted Leonardo da Vinci: "Why do we know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot?"


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