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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Plant scientist, Prof Zakkie Pretorius, contributes to food security with his research
2014-08-26

 
Many plant pathologists spend entire careers trying to outwit microbes, in particular those that cause diseases of economically important plants. In some cases control measures are simple and successful. In others, disease management remains an ongoing battle. 

Prof Zakkie Pretorius, Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, works on a group of wheat diseases known as rusts. The name is derived from the powdery and brown appearance of these fungi.

Over the course of history wheat rusts have undergone what are notoriously known as boom and bust cycles. During boom periods the disease is controlled by means of heritable resistance in a variety, resulting in good yields. This resistance, though, is more often than not busted by the appearance of new rust strains with novel parasitic abilities. For resistance to remain durable, complex combinations of effective genes and chromosome regions have to be added in a single wheat variety.

In recent years, Prof Pretorius has focused on identifying and characterising resistance sources that have the potential to endure the onslaught of new rust races. His group has made great progress in the control of stripe rust – where several chromosome regions conditioning effective resistance have been identified.

Dr Renée Prins of CenGen and an affiliated UFS staff member, developed molecular markers for these resistance sources. These are now routinely applied in wheat breeding programmes in South Africa. In addition, Prof Pretorius collaborates with several countries to transfer newly discovered stem rust resistance genes to wheat, and in characterising effective sources of resistance in existing wheat collections.

His work is closely supported by research conducted by UFS colleagues, students and other partners on the genetics of the various wheat rust pathogens. These studies aim to answer questions about:
• the origin and relatedness of rust races,
• their highly successful parasitic ability, and
• their adaptation in different environments.

The UFS wheat rust programme adds significantly to the development of resistant varieties and thus more sustainable production of this important crop. 

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