- Microbes in and around food crops do not just cause human disease. In certain cases, they do exactly the opposite, acting as sentinels of food safety and furnishing an environmentally sound alternative to massive inputs of fertilizers and pesticides.
- Spreading bacteria on crops became a strategy for researchers in Virginia who sprayed anti-Salmonella soil bacteria on tomato seedlings. The scientists hope the approach might prevent annual outbreaks of food poisoning from raw tomatoes grown on the East Coast.
- Applying fungi to cassava plants, a project of researchers in Colombia, helps the roots acquire phosphate without the need for expensive fertilizers, a boon in tropical nations where the amount of nutrient that can be obtained from the soil is particularly low.
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Tomatoes fresh from a roadside stand, sliced, glistening, and served with nothing more than salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil—a sacred pleasure of summer. To die for? Possibly so.
Almost every year for the past decade or so, public health investigators on the East Coast have tracked down one or two Salmonella outbreaks and identified local tomatoes as the culprit. These outbreaks are typically small, affecting 10 to 100 people. Yet for the very old and very young, they can mean hospitalization and even death.
This article was originally published with the title Super Dirt.