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UEA scientists make pollutants breakthrough

PUBLISHED: 21:00 26 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:00 02 July 2010

Dan Grimmer

Scientists in Norwich have discovered a way to prevent the occurrence of a major pollutant which is harmful to human health as well as the environment.

Scientists in Norwich have discovered a way to prevent the occurrence of a major pollutant which is harmful to human health and the environment.

UEA experts have been working with scientists in Spain to identify the final piece in the jigsaw of how phytate is produced in plants.

The “breakthrough discovery” has implications for agribusiness, the environment and human health and is published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Phytate is a naturally occurring phosphate deposit which accumulates in the seeds and beans of many crops. Because many animals are unable to digest the phytate present in their feed, the phytate phosphorus is transferred to the soil as manure, leading to harmful pollution of waterways.

Not only does phytate contribute to pollution, the phytate in crops is also an “anti-nutrient” that can have a detrimental effect on human health.

In the developing world, where diets are often predominantly grain or bean-based with little or no meat, phytate has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the main causes of iron deficiency anaemia - a major disease affecting millions of people.

Dr Charles Brearley from the UEA's School of Biological Sciences and co-author of the study, said: “This is a hugely exciting discovery as scientists have been searching for this final piece in this jigsaw for so long, and because phytate has such a wide-ranging impact in agriculture, the environment and human health.”

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