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Soil and Human Health: Current Status and Future Needs

Updated: Apr 25

Authors: E.C. Brevik et al.


Soil influences human health in a variety of ways, with human health being linked to the health of the soil. Historically, emphasis has been placed on the negative impacts that soils have on human health, including exposures to toxins and pathogenic organisms or the problems created by growing crops in nutrient-deficient soils. However, there are a number of positive ways that soils enhance human health, from food production and nutrient supply to the supply of medications and enhancement of the immune system. It is increasingly recognized that the soil is an ecosystem with a myriad of interconnected parts, each influencing the other, and when all necessary parts are present and functioning (ie, the soil is healthy), human health also benefits. Despite the advances that have been made, there are still many areas that need additional investigation. We do not have a good understanding of how chemical mixtures in the environment influence human health, and chemical mixtures in soil are the rule, not the exception. We also have sparse information on how most chemicals react within the chemically and biologically active soil ecosystem, and what those reactions mean for human health. There is a need to better integrate soil ecology and agronomic crop production with human health, food/nutrition science, and genetics to enhance bacterial and fungal sequencing capabilities, metagenomics, and the subsequent analysis and interpretation. While considerable work has focused on soil microbiology, the macroorganisms have received much less attention regarding links to human health and need considerable attention. Finally, there is a pressing need to effectively communicate soil and human health connections to our broader society, as people cannot act on information they do not have. Multidisciplinary teams of researchers, including scientists, social scientists, and others, will be essential to move all these issues forward.


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