Jun 13, 2012
The Rediscovery of the Mineral Magnesium
The first international symposium on the role of magnesium as a mineral crop nutrient, for improving the quality of food products and for human health was held from 8-9 May 2012, and drew more than 120 participants from 30 countries.
The conference was hosted by the Institute of Applied Plant Nutrition – IAPN at the Georg-August-University Goettingen, which had been ceremoniously opened only one week earlier. The symposium was organized in cooperation with the Sabanci University, Istanbul, and the Center for Magnesium Education and Research, Hawaii.
Starting point for an interdisciplinary discourse
The symposium was intended to kick off an intense interdisciplinary discourse by internationally leading magnesium researchers. “Normally, plant researchers, animal food producers and physicians meet at their respective expert or trade conferences,” said Prof. Dr. Klaus Dittert, the scientific director of the IAPN. “This symposium has successfully facilitated the very first interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge on the functions and characteristics of magnesium.”
Magnesium in Plant Nutrition
Several speakers from the field of plant nutrition have termed magnesium the “forgotten mineral”. Unlike other nutritional elements such as nitrogen, potassium or phosphorus, magnesium has received very little attention by researchers in the past. Among other functions, magnesium is essential to the energy metabolism, to photosynthesis, and the transport of nutrients within plants, thereby contributing to improved crop quality and yield. At the symposium, international speakers discussed numerous additional mechanisms of action associated with magnesium in plants, thereby substantiating the demand for a balanced supply of magnesium to agricultural crops.
Of particular interest was the role of magnesium to crop cultivation under adverse conditions. Climate change is increasingly causing longer and more severe dry spells, mostly in combination with increased insolation. In their presentations, the scientists showed just how magnesium helps to minimize the negative effects of these factors on yield formation. Much of the positive influence of magnesium on many plant species is attributed to improved root growth and increased stress tolerance. Prof. Dr. Ismail Cakmak from the Sabanci University Istanbul emphasized: “Even slight magnesium deficits inhibit the transport of photo-assimilates within the plant. This initially affects the roots, stunting their growth long before the first symptoms of deficiency may be discerned on foliage.”
Acidic soils cause problems
In some regions of the world, agriculture is facing major challenges due to adverse soil characteristics. “In soils with natural pH-values in the acidic range magnesium is easily washed out, and is therefore no longer available for the plants’ metabolism”, explains Prof. Dr. Andreas Gransee, Director of Applied Research and Advisory Service Agro of the K+S KALI GmbH and Managing Director of the IAPN. “In case of insufficient fertilisation, these soil characteristics will lower yield volumes and, unfortunately, these characteristics are common in some of the most densely populated regions of the world.” In connection with a low pH-value of soils, the experts at the symposium described another problem: acidic soils may show high concentrations of root-damaging aluminum. The toxic effect of aluminum may be alleviated by magnesium.
Important findings and further research needs
According to the scientists, magnesium makes an important contribution to maintaining satisfactory crop yields, even under adverse conditions. In view of the growing world population with changing dietary habits and an increasing demand for food this aspect of magnesium fertilisation is sure to become even more relevant, as the availability of arable land has remained nearly the same, worldwide. What became apparent at the symposium is the fact that in some areas, our understanding of the detailed processes and interconnections between magnesium supply and plant growth is still insufficient, and that many of these mechanisms necessitate further research. The IAPN picks up on these research issues, moving them to the focus of a broadening international exchange with other institutes.
More about the Magnesium-Symposium: www.iapn-goettingen.de