Sustainable production of sufficient food of good nutritional quality for a growing population at affordable prices is one of the major challenges the world is facing. Good nutritional quality means an adequate supply of essential vitamins and minerals, while limiting the uptake of toxic amounts of potentially harmful elements such as heavy metals and pesticides. This dossier focuses on the pathways of micronutrients and heavy metals from the soil through the crop and via food into the human body, and on the factors that influence their bio-availability to the next stage.
Even though metabolisms and interactions vary largely among micronutrients and heavy metals, soils, crop (varieties) and human beings, generally many steps exist at which potential losses or accumulation of micronutrients or heavy metals occur. Human nutrient deficiencies and metal toxicities result in many situations from soil nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, since most human food directly or indirectly comes from plants grown in soils.
In this dossier you will find the most relevant research carried by Wageningen University & Research on micronutrients and heavy metals in the soil. The publications have been clustered in three sub-themes: soil & environment; from soil to plants; and from plants to human health. Click on a topic to expand:
Human nutrient deficiencies and toxicities can result from soil nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, e.g. when too low levels of essential micronutrients or too high levels of heavy metals occur. Contents in soils are determined by the substantial natural variation in soils and are influenced by fertilisation, cropping, weather and emissions from industrial processes. Bioavailability for plants is influenced by many chemical and physical soil characteristics such as pH, organic matter content, soil aeration, moisture, soil particle size, and interaction with other elements.
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A proportion of the micronutrients and heavy metals in the soil can be taken up by plants. Effects of the amount taken up, e.g. on plant growth and development, vary among plant species. Bioavailability and uptake is determined by soil characteristicsin interaction with crop characteristics (e.g. rooting depth and active or passive transport into the plant) and soil management practices. Plant internal distribution will ultimately determine the contents in the edible or harvested parts of the plant.
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To lead a healthy and productive life, humans need a balanced supply of essential micronutrients and should limit the intake of heavy metals.
Retention of micronutrients and heavy metals in food items is determined by storage, processing and food preparation conditions, consisting of exposure to water, air, heat, UV light and oxygen. Bioavailability to humans is determined by food-related factors (e.g. diet, chemical form, binding to organic compounds, presence of inhibitors or enhancers of absorption, amount of the nutrient in a meal, nutrient interactions) and human-related factors (age, nutrient and health status of a person, physiological stage, fat mass, genetic factors).