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  • BPA can Reprogram the Brain, Changing Sexual Behavior of Turtles

    BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that is used in a wide range of everyday items, including plastic water bottles, food cans and till slips. It is a harmful contaminant that has been associated with many health issues in both humans and wildlife that are exposed to it. BPA makes its way into the environment, and tends to accumulate in aquatic systems where it can negatively impact aquatic wildlife that live there.

    An earlier study conducted by scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia on painted turtles revealed that BPA disrupts reproductive functioning and can feminize male turtles, causing them to develop female sex organs. In a more recent study, the researchers show how BPA not only physically feminizes male turtles, but it also reprograms the brain, making them exhibit behavioral patterns usually associated with female turtles. The scientists are concerned about the impact this could have on the population status of painted turtles, which could decline as a result.

    turtle

    According to Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of this study, the initial study showed that BPA and ethinyl estradiol (EE2), a hormone used in oral contraceptives, could reverse the sex of male turtles, changing them into females.

    "Painted turtles and other reptiles lack sex chromosomes," she explains. "The gender of painted turtles and other reptiles is determined by the incubation temperature of the egg during development. Studies have shown that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as BPA, can override incubation temperature and switch the sex of males to females. In our latest study, we found that BPA also affects how the male brain is 'wired,' potentially inducing males to show female type behavioral patterns."

    For their study, the scientists exposed painted turtle eggs to BPA and ethinyl estradiol (EE2) in liquid form, then placed the eggs in an incubator set at a temperature that would typically result in male hatchlings. When the hatchlings were 5 months old the researchers tested their spacial navigation skills to ascertain whether exposure to these chemicals would have any impact on the navigational ability — more specifically, to determine whether their navigational skills would be in line with that expected of females who are better navigators than their male counterparts. The results of the navigational test showed male turtles that were exposed to these hormone disrupting chemicals while still in the egg exhibited better spatial navigational learning and memory skills than male turtles incubated under the same environmental conditions, but which did not get exposed to BPA and EE2 whilst developing in the egg.

     

    "While improved spatial navigation might be considered a good thing, it also may suggest that when they reach adulthood male turtles will not exhibit courtship behaviors needed to attract a mate and reproduce, which could result in dramatic population declines," explains Rosenfeld.

    According to Professor Rosenfeld, this study is the first to show how these harmful environmental contaminants not only change the physical sexual characteristics of turtles, but affects brain functioning as well. Turtles are considered an 'indicator species' as they can be used to determine the environmental health of the broader aquatic ecosystem. Gaining a clearer understanding of how these endocrine disrupting compounds affect the sexual behavior and orientation of turtles, may enable scientists to better understand the potential impacts of these chemicals on other animal species, including humans.

    The Berkey  water filter, equipped with the black berkey filters, will filter out any BPA that may be in the water.

    Journal Reference

    Lindsey K. Manshack, Caroline M. Conard, Sarah A. Johnson, Jorden M. Alex, Sara J. Bryan, Sharon L. Deem, Dawn K. Holliday, Mark R. Ellersieck, Cheryl S. Rosenfeld. Effects of developmental exposure to bisphenol A and ethinyl estradiol on spatial navigational learning and memory in painted turtles (Chrysemys picta). Hormones and Behavior, 2016; 85: 48 DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.07.009

    Images Suggestions:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/122465.php?from=336711
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/7888043218
    Multimedia

    VIDEO: http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/122466.php

  • Industrial Chemicals found in American Alligators & African Crocodiles

    Two pioneering new studies examined perfluorinated alkyl acid (PFAA) concentrations in 'sentinel' reptiles, and could prove to be particularly useful for assessing the long-term impact of environmentally persistent chemicals.

    While alligators in American waterways and crocodiles in South African aquatic systems inhabit freshwater systems on separate continents, thousands of miles apart, two new studies conducted by scientists from Hollings Marine Laboratory, Charleston, South Carolina, have found that both species have persistent industrial chemicals used for non-stick coatings at detectable levels in their blood.

    perfluorinated compounds berkey filter PFAA perfluorinated compounds berkey filter PFAA

    Some of the compounds included in this environmentally persistent group of chemicals — which have been associated with reduced fertility, liver toxicity, and a wide range of other health issues in both animals and humans — are no longer in use in the US and many other countries. Yet, blood samples taken from 125 American alligators at 12 different sites across South Carolina and Florida, showed that all had at least 6 out of 15 PFAAs being tracked for the study.

    The study, together with a similar study on South African crocodiles conducted by colleagues, is the first to examine PFAA levels in indicator reptile species, which are particularly useful for studying the affects of persistent chemicals that linger in the environment. PFAA compounds were historically used in common industrial and household products, including non-stick frying pans, fire-fighting foam, household and industrial waxes, stain repellents and water-resistant clothing.

    Implications for Drinking Water

    The blood levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the alligators ranged between 1,360 - 452,000 ppt (parts per trillion). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a health advisory for PFOS and other PFAAs in drinking water early this year, recommending a drinking water standard of 70 ppt as the maximum combined exposure level for the two PFAAs in question. The researchers suggest that the high blood concentrations of PFOS found in alligators across several sites is concerning, and may imply that drinking water needs to be tested at those sites to limit human exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

    "Alligators and crocodiles play a dominant role in their ecosystems," said Jacqueline Bangma, of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. "Similar to humans, they are long-lived top predators. They stay in a select territory--waterways where runoff from human activities accumulates-- and their PFAA burden increases through the consumption of fish."

    Contamination Hot Spots

    Both the US and South African study revealed "hot spots," where alligators and/or crocodiles had significantly higher levels of PFAA compared to animals at other locations. In the US, these tended to be on Florida's Merrit Island and on Kiaway Island situated in the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest of Charleston, SC. The high PFAA levels in these areas may be due to historical use of fire-fighting foams containing PFAAs, as high levels have been found in the environment around fire-training and manufacturing sites.

    Exposure to Other Environmental Contaminants

    By comparison, alligators in the Florida Everglades had the lowest concentrations of two of the most prevalent PFAAs found in all of the US alligators sampled. This came as a bit of a surprise to the researchers, as compared to other alligators in Florida, alligators in the Everglades have been found to have the highest concentrations of mercury.

    The Black Berkey elements that come standard with our Berkey systems do reduce Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFOA, PFOS, PFAA contaminates).  Berkey water filter Perfluorinated Chemical test results can be found here.

    Journal Reference/s

    J.T. Bangma, J.A. Bowden, A.M. Brunell, I. Christie, B. Finnell, M.P. Guillette, M. Jones, R.H. Lowers, T.R. Rainwater, J.L. Reiner, P.M. Wilkinson and L.J. Guillette, Jr. Perfluorinated alkyl acids in plasma of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) from Florida and South Carolina. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Accepted manuscript online: August 20, 2016. doi:10.1002/etc.3600

    I. Christie, J.L. Reiner, J.A. Bowden, H. Botha, T.M. Cantu, D. Govender, M.P. Guillettee, R.H. Lowers, W.J. Luus-Powell, D. Pienaar, W.J. Smit and L.J. Guillette Jr. Perfluorinated alkyl acids in the plasma of South African crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus). Chemosphere. Published: July 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.03.072.

    Suggested Images
    https://pixabay.com/en/alligator-head-wildlife-mouth-1378625/
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  • New Radiation Testing Results for Black Berkey Filters

    After much anticipation, we are happy to announce the release of new radiation testing results for the black berkey filters.  Below, please find a summary of the 3 sets of black berkey radiation tests.

    Gross Alpha Reduction Testing Report <-- Link to 1st Set of Test Results

    The Gravity Black Berkey Filter reduced the Gross Alpha concentration in the tap water by at least 98.7 %. The EPA limit for Gross Alpha is 15 pCi/L; the Gravity Black Berkey Filter meets the EPA requirements for drinking water.

    Potential gross alpha contaminants/emitters in water:

    Americium-241
    Mendelevium-258
    Neptunium-237
    Plutonium-238 and -239
    Polonium-210
    Protactinium-231
    Radium-226 and -228
    Thorium-232
    Uranium-235 and -238

    Gross Beta Reduction Testing Report <-- Link to 2nd Set of Test Results

    The Gravity Black Berkey Filter reduced the Gross Beta concentration in the tap water by at least 95.3 %. The EPA limit for Gross Beta is 15 pCi/L; the Gravity Black Berkey Filter meets the EPA requirements for drinking water.

    Potential Gross Beta contaminants/emitters in water:

    Actinium-227
    Californium-251 and -252
    Cesium-137
    Cobalt-60
    Iodine-129 and -131
    Lead-210
    Nickel-63
    Promethium-145
    Strontium-90
    Technetium-99

    Uranium Reduction Test Report <-- Link to 3rd Set of Test Results

    The Gravity Black Berkey Filter reduced the Uranium concentration in the tap water by at least 97.0 %. The EPA limit for Uranium is 30 µg/L; the Gravity Black Berkey Filter meets the EPA requirements for drinking water.

  • Are Well Owners More Environmentally Conscious?

    Water well owners in Kansas tend to be more aware of issues relating to state water policies than citizens whose water is supplied by municipal water networks, a new study has found. This could in turn have implications for environmental policy and groundwater management, says Brock Ternes, a PhD student at the University of Kansas, who conducted the study for his doctoral thesis in sociology.

    For his study, Ternes conducted a survey interviewing 864 Kansas residents, questioning them about their water supply and water use habits, as well as their awareness to water related issues, including policy. He found that residents that depended on private wells for their water supply were more concerned with issues related to water depletion in the High Plains Aquifer — the underground aquifer that serves as a freshwater reservoir lying beneath a large portion of western Kansas — and tended to be significantly more informed about state water policies and more aware of key water management agencies than those who didn't own wells.

    "The people who use private wells for water are more likely to hear about water-related policy issues and pay attention to them," said Ternes, who will present his study at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) this week.

    windmill

    He found, for example, that well owners were more knowledgeable about the proposed Kansas Aqueduct — an $18 billion waterworks project that would involve diverting water from the Missouri River to provide water to water scarce areas of western Kansas. Residents who didn't own wells tended to be less aware of this gigantic water project.

    Like many other regions that have been affected by recent droughts, rural Kansas has been suffering from water scarcity issues. Water extraction from the High Plains Aquifer, which is the primary source of groundwater for the region, has been excessive to meet irrigation demands of the agricultural sector, and researchers caution that wells in some areas of southwestern Kansas are likely to run dry in the next 25 years if pumping is not curtailed.

    Ternes' water survey also revealed that well owners considered water conservation a top priority to ensure they would still have water in the future. Ternes refers to the term 'groundwater citizenship' which encourages aquifer stewardship and concerted water conservation efforts to ensure groundwater supplies are not depleted so that there will still be water available in the future.

    "Most well owners believe securing water is one of the top political challenges facing Kansas, and water policies are more likely to influence their vote in local and state elections than Kansans who don't own wells," said Ternes. "My data suggest that well owners have different political priorities than non-well owners and conserve water with the hopes of extending their supply, which makes them a unique type of citizen."

    Ternes believes the study could provide valuable information to Kansas water officials and policymakers in looking for potential solutions for preventing the High Plains Aquifer from becoming depleted. If they grasp the significance of engaging with well owners who feel strongly about water conserving water, it can help boost public awareness of water conservation issues generally, bringing these important issues more into the limelight.

    "Water supply infrastructure is clearly connected to how in-tune people are with their natural resources, which is profoundly important for environmental policymaking and survival in the Anthropocene," Ternes said.

    Many states are vulnerable to water exploitation, which is exacerbated in times of drought. Yet water resources need to be managed appropriately to ensure water availability in the future. In this modern day and age, with improved technologies that allow us to readily access natural resources such as water, it may seem that water availability is much higher that what it really is, when in fact it is a finite resource that is now more scarce than ever.

    Reference

    The paper, "'Groundwater Citizenship' and Water Supply Awareness: Investigating Water-Related Infrastructure, the Kansas Aqueduct, and Well Ownership," will be presented on Monday, Aug. 22, at 8:30 a.m. PDT in Seattle at the American Sociological Association's 111th Annual Meeting.

  • 218 Million Americans Exposed to Dangerous Levels of Chromium-6 in Their Water & Berkey Will Remove It

    "There is scientific uncertainty regarding safe levels of this chemical in drinking water and possible long-term consequences of ingestion. But this new analysis from the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy group, examines evidence from water systems throughout the nation and concludes that the tap water of 218 million Americans contains levels of chromium-6 that the group considers dangerous." More details from CNN article here.

    Yes, the black berkey filters that come standard with our berkey systems do filter out and remove chromium 6 from the water.

    These berkey test results for chromium 6 can be found here.

    And don't forget, BigBerkeyWaterFilters.com is the only company to offer an exclusive extended lifetime warranty. More details here. This is not available from other sellers.

  • Huge Sinkhole Contaminates Florida Drinking Water

    A massive sinkhole that formed beneath a stack of hazardous waste material has resulted in roughly 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater leaking into the aquifer below. The aquifer is a primary source of drinking water for millions of residents, while water that flows out of the aquifer enters springs and rivers that are popular for recreational pursuits such as swimming and kayaking.

    The incident occurred at a waste storage site of a fertilizer plant in New Wales, Florida. The company, Mosaic, first noticed that water levels in a wastewater pond at the stack had dropped significantly, and upon inspection, discovered a massive sinkhole with a diameter of 45 feet. The stack is used to store phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste byproduct that is produced when phosphate is used in the manufacture of fertilizers, which apparently is a common practice at industrial plants such as this.

    According to a statement released by Mosaic, the pond liner beneath the phosophogypsum stack was damaged when the sinkhole developed, resulting in the leakage from the pond above, which has not as yet been contained.

    "Based on the nature of the water loss and what we've learned so far," the sinkhole damaged the liner system at the base of a phosophogypsum stack, Mosaic said on Thursday. "The pond on top of the cell drained as a result" and "some seepage continues."

    According to a company spokesperson, it is believed that the sinkhole extends to the Floridan aquifer, which means that this water supply has been contaminated with around 215 million gallons of water that contains industrial pollutants used in the fertilizer manufacturing process, which have seeped into the hole.

    The company has taken steps to rectify the situation and possibly avoid further damage. According to a company statement:

    "We are working closely with regulators and have been reporting to FDEP daily. We have also called in top experts in the field to advise us on this issue. Enhanced water quality monitoring continues, and we are developing a comprehensive corrective action plan to address and rectify the cause of the water loss," the company added.

    "Mosaic immediately implemented additional and extensive groundwater monitoring and sampling regimens and has found no offsite impacts," the company said. Mosaic also "began pumping water out of the west cell" of the affected phosphogypsum stack "into an alternative holding area on site to reduce the amount of drainage", and has also "begun the process of recovering the water" that drained through the sinkhole "by pumping through onsite production wells," it said.

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) have confirmed that the company has alerted both the DEP and the EPA of the incident that occurred at their facility, and has taken immediate action to investigate and implement remedial action, and keep both regulatory authorities updated on the status and progress. The FDEP is also carefully monitoring the situation, conducting frequent visits to the site to ensure that a "timely and appropriate response continues in order to safeguard public health and the environment."

    However, local residents are not convinced. Local news media reported that picketers from Polka County gathered outside the Mulberry City Hall on Saturday morning to protest the lack of preventative measures taken to protect their drinking water.

    While all the above efforts and responses are reactive rather than proactive, as consumers, we can take steps to ensure that the water we drink is free from contaminants. By investing in a good quality drinking water filter you can remove any unwanted pollutants — including many industrial pollutants — that may make their way into your water supply.

  • Bottled Water in High Demand by Thirsty Air Travelers

    For travelers and air commuters, the number one priority is keeping hydrated while in transit. According to a recent CNN report, bottled water is top of the list of most frequently purchased items in Hudson Travel Essential stores throughout the US.

    With over 950 stores serving 4 million travelers every day at airport, train and bus terminals across America, the Hudson Group is the biggest travel retailer in America. After releasing a list of items most in demand by travelers, it is clear that beverages stand out, accounting for eight of the ten items most frequently purchased, with bottled water taking the top five spots, followed by Diet Coke and Coca-Cola in sixth and seventh spot respectively, M&M Peanuts in eight spot, Coca-Cola Zero in ninth spot, and The Wall Street Journal (the only non-food item on the list) taking up the tenth spot.

    1280px-jfkterminal5entryhall

    Here's the breakdown of most frequently purchased items:

    1. Dasani bottled water (20 oz)
    2. Glaceau Smartwater (20 oz)
    3. Large Dasani (one liter)
    4. Glaceau Smartwater (one liter)
    5. Glaceau Smartwater (23.8 oz)
    6. Diet Coke (20 oz)
    7. Coca-Cola (20 oz)
    8. M&M Peanut king-size
    9. Coca-Cola Zero (20 oz)
    10. The Wall Street Journal

    Heightened security and safety limitations that restrict travelers from taking liquids on board flights have no doubt helped increase the demand for these items once travelers have passed through the security gates. But bottled water is expensive, especially at airport terminals where demand is high and competition limited. Besides the expense, plastic bottles take a heavy toll on the environment. Valuable natural resources such as water, energy and petroleum are used in the manufacture and transportation along the production and supply line, and discarded plastic bottles add to the sea of plastic that wreaks havoc on the environment.

    An alternative solution that will not only save you money but will also be better for the environment, is to purchase a lightweight portable refillable water filter bottle that can be topped up anywhere there is a tap on hand. An example of this would be our very own sport berkey. The replaceable carbon filter will remove any potential contaminants that may be lurking in the water, to provide you with healthy purified water, for free. Make sure that the water bottle you purchase is made from non-leachable BPA-free plastic.

    A water filter bottle will not only provide you with a free source of filtered water while waiting in the airport, but as it is reusable, it can come in very useful when traveling to foreign destinations where the quality of drinking water may be questionable. It can also be used to filter freshwater collected from streams, rivers, lakes and even stagnant ponds when traveling to remote locations where there may be no other water supply available. A portable water filter bottle really is a travelers best friend; it is an essential piece of equipment that should be included in every travelers hand-luggage.

  • Clean Air = Clean Water - Clean Air Act credited for improving Chesapeake Bay Water Quality

    The saying, 'what goes up must come down,' certainly holds some weight (no pun intended), but now appears to influence water quality too.

    A recent study shows that cleaner air above the Potomac watershed, including that of the Washington DC metropole may account for the recent improvements in Chesapeake Bay water quality. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science suggest that there is a link between improved water quality of freshwater systems in the Upper Potomac River Basin and improved air quality as a result of the Clean Air Act, which has seen a reduction in nitrogen pollution contaminating land and freshwater systems in the Potomac watershed.

    chesapeake-bay-1310538_960_720

    According to lead author, Keith Eshleman, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science:

    "The recent water quality successes in the Chesapeake Bay restoration are apparently driven more by air quality regulation rather than by water quality control efforts. These air quality regulations were intended to address human health issues and acid sensitive streams. No one thought you would have this positive impact on water quality. It was totally unanticipated."

    Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the US. It is also one of the most polluted, suffering from high nutrient loads and hypoxic conditions due to oxygen depletion resulting from excessive nitrogen inputs. Much focus, and credit, has been given to improved land-based strategies, such as wastewater treatment and agricultural practices, to reduce nitrogen pollution in freshwater systems. Yet the research team found that the improvement in water quality in the Upper Potomac River Basin, covering an area of approximate 12,000 miles that extends across the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, can be attributed to improved air quality, or more specifically, due to a reduction in atmospheric nitrogen deposits which have been curbed as a result of the Clean Air Act, introduced in 1973 and amended in 1990.

    "Most best management practices--like a riparian buffer or retention pond--only impact a relatively small area," said Eshleman. "You can think about the Clean Air Act as a best management practice that affects every square meter of the watershed."

    Nitrogen in the atmosphere — largely arising from emissions produced when fossil fuels are burnt — is eventually deposited on land or on surface waters. If the amount of nitrogen that is deposited is higher than the amount of nitrogen that plants and trees need for growth, soils may become nitrogen saturated. This surplus nitrogen can enter freshwater systems, where it can result in algal blooms that negatively impact aquatic life in freshwater and marine ecosystems.

    The scientists have been analyzing water quality data from streams and rivers in the Upper Potomac River Basin since 1986. They have discovered that water quality throughout the watershed has improved universally. In particular, the scientists noted a decline in atmospheric nitrogen deposition since 1996 — the same period that emission limits were placed on coal-fired boilers. The researchers also noted that nitrate concentrations in the Upper Potomac river began to decline soon thereafter, and continued to do so through to 2012. As a result, nitrogen saturation within the watershed was quickly reversed. The study suggests that in the future, water quality within the Potomac watershed is likely to improve further as cleaner energy sources such as renewables and natural gas replace coal-fired energy plants.

    Journal Reference

    Keith N. Eshleman, Robert D. Sabo. Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under the Chesapeake Bay restoration? Atmospheric Environment, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.07.004

  • Drinking Water to Control Weight

    When you're feeling peckish and have the urge to snack on junk food, rather have a glass of water instead. Not only will this keep you hydrated, it helps your muscles to work more efficiently, and will also stave away those hunger pangs to help you keep your weight under control.

    In a recent study involving 10,000 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 64, researchers show that drinking lots of water, together with eating fruit and veggies with a high water content, not only keeps our bodies hydrated but can assist with weight control, especially for those of us who are overweight and can afford to lose a few pounds.

    credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aquamech-utah/ credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aquamech-utah/

    According to Dr Tammy Chang, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, and lead author of the study: "Staying hydrated is good for you no matter what, and our study suggests it may also be linked to maintaining a healthy weight. Our findings suggest that hydration may deserve more attention when thinking about addressing obesity on a population level."

    Dehydration can affect our physical, emotional and mental well being, causing headaches, kidney problems and constipation, as well as negatively impacting our moods, memory and ability to pay attention.

    But, according to Chang, the amount of water consumed is not necessarily a clear indicator of hydration, as the amount of water needed to keep hydrated varies from person to person and is affected by factors such as body size, activity levels and the climate where we live and work.
    "Imagine if you were a landscaper in Arizona versus a receptionist in Michigan," explains Chang. "The amount of water it takes to stay hydrated will be drastically different."

    For this study, the researchers looked at hydration from a new angle — it's not so much the volume of water that you drink, but how hydrated your body becomes after doing so. In order to assess that, they analyzed urine samples of study participants to measure water concentrations.

    When we are hydrated our heart is able to pump blood to our muscles more efficiently, which in turn enables them to work more efficiently. The research team found that keeping hydrated was particularly important for those of us with a body mass index (BMI) score higher than 25, which is considered overweight. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, two thirds of the American population fall on this end of the BMI scale, which in effect means that many of us could benefit from being better hydrated.

    "We found hydration and BMI/obesity are associated. A bigger person needs more water than a smaller person to stay hydrated," said Chang. "It could be that those people with higher BMI are more likely to be inadequately hydrated or that those that stay well hydrated are less likely to be obese."

    In another study, researchers tested how drinking water before a meal affects the stomach and brain to influence feelings of satiety. They found that participants who drank more water felt less hungry before eating the meal, and fuller afterwards.

    Drinking water has obvious health benefits, and it appears that it can help with weight control too. However, bear in mind that water can also contain contaminants that can be harmful to our health. The best option is to drink lots of purified water. For optimal health, invest in a good quality drinking water filter that can remove a wide range of harmful water pollutants to provide you with a source of pure healthy drinking water to keep your body hydrated.

    Journal Reference

    Chang et al. Inadequate Hydration, BMI, and Obesity Among US Adults: NHANES 2009–2012. Ann Fam Med July/August 2016 vol. 14 no. 4 320-324. doi: 10.1370/afm.1951

  • Water-efficient Crop Production

    The problem of how to boost food production is an important issue for humanity, considering our limited water resources and the ever-growing global population. Water usage at its current level is already unsustainable, with around 70% of global water usage being used for agriculture.

    Water extraction for crop growth not only lowers the groundwater table, exacerbating water scarcity, it also significantly adds to the volume of water moving from land to sea — estimated to be around 50 net cubic miles.  This is equivalent to three times the volume of water that cascades down the Niagara Falls every year — making a 30% contribution to sea level rise. According to the Global Agriculture Report, water demand for irrigation has increased three-fold over the last 50 years, and is expected to rise by another 20% by 2050.

    crops

    Approximately 80% of water that is released into the atmosphere from terrestrial sources does so via transpiration in plants, who take up the water from soils via their roots and then release it via their leaves during the process of photosynthesis. Considering that so much water is lost via plant leaves during production, it is the greatest factor limiting the expansion of crop production globally. Consequently, if we wish to reduce the amount of water used in agriculture while still maintaining food security in the years ahead, it is essential that we find crop plants that utilize water more efficiently.

    Now researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have done just that. By identifying and permanently activating the natural water-conservation mechanism used by plants when water is scarce, which allows them to absorb carbon dioxide with limited water loss, the scientists have managed to get the plants to make more efficient use of water without negatively affecting their growth.

    Gaseous Exchange in Plants

    Plants regulate the flow of carbon dioxide and water vapor through the stomata — tiny pores found on the surface of plant leaves. When these pores close, water loss is reduced; however, it also limits the absorption of carbon dioxide. When the stomata are open to allow carbon dioxide to enter, they can lose between 500-1000 molecules of water, depending on the humidity and air temperature. However, during dry periods when water is not so readily available plants are able to reduce internal carbon dioxide concentrations in order to absorb carbon dioxide more effectively.

    "Plants have the ability to cut water loss during CO2 absorption in half, but they will only switch to this water-saving mode when water is in short supply," says Erwin Grill, Professor of Botany at TUM. "With arable crops, plants with a perpetually activated water-saving strategy would preserve the moisture in the ground to use it for growth and survival at a later point in times of drought."

    Water-saving Mode Activated by Plant Hormone

    The researchers have discovered that this water-saving mode is activated by the plant hormone known as abscisic acid, which plants produce at higher quantities when water is scarce. Tests conducted on mouse-ear cress (Arabidopsis), which has fourteen receptors dedicated to detecting this hormone signal, show that when production of these receptors is increased, plants will switch to water-saving mode, regardless of whether water is scarce or not. However, of these fourteen receptors, only three did not have a negative effect on plant growth, but a 40% water saving is feasible without negatively impacting the plant's overall performance.
    While initial laboratory experiments conducted in a phytochamber simulating field conditions show positive results, the next step would be to determine whether the same water-saving effects can be achieved in the field.

    "It remains to be seen if crop plants such as wheat, corn, and rice can produce more biomass with the same amount of water using this mechanism," says Professor Grill. "We are optimistic"

    Since the mechanisms involved are present in all plants, it should be possible to transfer these results from the model plant Arabidopsis to crop plants. This would be an important step towards ensuring future food security.

    Journal Reference

    Zhenyu Yang, Jinghui Liu, Stefanie V. Tischer, Alexander Christmann, Wilhelm Windisch, Hans Schnyder, and Erwin Grill: Leveraging abscisic acid receptors for efficient water use in Arabidopsis, PNAS 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1601954113
    Image Suggestions:
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