Global food trade can alleviate water scarcity

International trade of food crops led to freshwater savings worth 2.4 billion US-Dollars in 2005 and had a major impact on local water stress. This is shown in a new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Trading food involves the trade of virtually embedded water used for production, and the amount of that water depends heavily on the climatic conditions in the production region: It takes, for instance, 2.700 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cereals in Morocco, while the same kilo produced in Germany uses up only 520 liters. Analyzing the impact of trade on local water scarcity, our scientists found that it is not the amount of water used that counts most, but the origin of the water. While parts of India or the Middle East alleviate their water scarcity through importing crops, some countries in Southern Europe export agricultural goods from water-scarce sites, thus increasing local water stress.”Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our global freshwater consumption and therefore has a huge potential to affect local water scarcity,” lead author Anne Biewald says. The amount of water used in the production of agricultural export goods is referred to as virtual water trade. So far, however, the concept of virtual water could not identify the regional water source, but used national or even global averages instead. “Our analysis shows that it is not the amount of water that matters, but whether global food trade leads to conserving or depleting water reserves in water-scarce regions,” Biewald says.Combining biophysical simulations of the virtual water content of crop production with agro-economic land-use and water-use simulations, the scientists were able for the first time to determine the positive and negative impacts on water scarcity through international trade of crops, livestock and feed. The effects were analyzed with high resolution on a subnational level to account for large countries like India or the US with different climatic zones and relating varying local conditions regarding water availability and water productivity. Previously, these countries could only be evaluated through national average water productivity. …

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A quick test for the Black Death

July 24, 2013 — Diagnosing the presence of Yersinia pestis, the cause of plague, may soon be easier than ever before. Scientists working with Peter Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (MPIKG) in Potsdam and Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, have come up with a simple, inexpensive and reliable method of detecting the bacterium. The research team, specialising in glycochemistry and glycobiology, first identified and synthesised an oligosaccharide structure on bacterial surface before combining it with a protein to heighten the immunological effect. The presence of antibodies against this surface glycan in the blood of infected patients can be a biomarker of diagnostic value in Yersinia pestis infections. The Potsdam-based scientists also used the antigen to create antibodies which can directly detect the plague pathogen in infected samples.The Black Death is best known as a devastating medieval disease which affected Europe, Central Asia and China. The plague killed more than 200 million people through the ages. Yet it is by no means completely eradicated. In 2002 there was an outbreak of plague in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, and 2008 saw 18 cases reported in Madagascar. Ziketan, a city in north-west China, was quarantined after an outbreak in 2009, and in the same year there were 16 cases in Tobruk, Libya. Cases are also repeatedly reported in New Mexico, USA. …

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