News Stories

Dirt

We know why dirt is good?but if we're not careful, most of it may not be here anymore?and one kind of dirt can even cure cancer!

The bark of the rare Pacific yew tree is the main ingredient in the medicine Taxol, which is a major breakthrough in cancer cures. In LiveScience.com, Charles Q. Choi reports that the dirt the trees grow in contains the ingredient as well.

Throughout history, as civilizations expanded, they searched for new soil so they could feed their populations. As they wore out their soil, they ultimately moved on. That process is being repeating today, with even more disastrous results, because there are very few places left with fertile soil to feed large populations. Earth scientist David Montgomery says, "We're doing the same things today that past societies have done, and at the same rate." In essence, we are slowly removing our planet's life-giving skin.

According to Montgomery, "It only takes one good rainstorm when the soil is bare to lose a century's worth of dirt." In the past, as soil was depleted in a particular region?the American South during the height of tobacco plantations, for example, or the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s?people moved to new areas that could support their crops. But Montgomery argues that their primary farming method?plowing under any crop residue and leaving the surface exposed to wind and water erosion for long periods?was a major cause of the conditions that drove them from the land. When the Earth's population was smaller people could move from one place to another and give soil a chance to regenerate. But now, with more than 6 billion people on the planet, that option no longer exists. According to Montgomery, "We have to learn to farm without losing the soil."

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