Essential elements for health and food security

Many elements of the periodic table are essential for healthy life functioning. Our research focuses on those elements where there are proven or suspected environmental geochemical controls on human, livestock or crop health outcomes, particularly iodine, selenium, iron, zinc and magnesium.

Insufficient dietary supply of micronutrients (such as calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc) can result in 'hidden hunger', which may lead to a poorer nutritional status in populations. The impacts of hidden hunger may not only be felt at an individual level, but may also have direct economic consequences at a regional or national population level through an increased health burden. An equivalent impact is felt in the agricultural sector, where livestock may fail to thrive if micronutrients (such as cobalt, copper, iodine, magnesium, selenium and zinc) transfer from soil to plants in insufficient quantities. Benefits can be obtained by recognising any deficiencies and targeting appropriate interventions at various scales, from local to national.

Our research focuses on the links between the chemical concentration and properties of soil, water and sediments, and how these affect the transfer of mineral micronutrients to crops, livestock and humans. Controlling factors on these transfers include the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks through which water flows or upon which soil forms.

Our research is generally undertaken in research consortia with cross-disciplinary expertise from a wide range of disciplines, including agricultural soil science, plant and crop science, agronomy, human and animal nutrition, and economics. Beyond Britain, we also work elsewhere in Europe, in Asia and have an extensive research programme with partners in sub-Saharan Africa. There is also considerable overlap with our capacity strengthening activities.

Research topics


For further information contact Louise Ander or Michael Watts.

See also