Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 10:35 AM

Soils for Health: Linking Soil-Plant-Animal/Human Interrelationships at the USDA-ARS, U.S. Plant, Soil & Nutrition Laboratory A Historical Perspective.

Ross M. Welch, USDA-ARS, US Plant Soil & Nutrition Lab, Tower Road, Ithaca, NY 14853-2901

For millenniums many cultures have held a reverence for soils in human existence. Indeed, many cultures have believed that humans were created from soil. Many ancient philosophers suggested a cycle of human life from soil to plant/animal to human and back to soil. It was not until the mid 19th century that scientists began to study this linkage. Carl Sperngel (a German agriculturalist) noted that the nutritional value of clover was related to the soil the clover was grown on. In the United States, state geologists in the mid 19th century were the first to study the relationship of soils to animal and human health. In 1934, the USDA became very interested in studying the role of soils in human health because of a letter sent to the than Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, from a Professor (John Murlin) at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. His letter prompted Secretary Wallace to appoint a scientific committee to consider the role of soils in human health. The report generated by this committee ultimately resulted in the creation of the U.S. Plant, Soils & Nutrition Laboratory (PSNL) on the Cornell University campus in 1940 using federal Bankhead-Jones funding. Since PSNL's establishment, it has contributed greatly to our understanding of the roles that soils play in human health. Several important discoveries and accomplishments of this unique laboratory will be presented linking soils to human health.