9 January 2017

Institute of Technology receives 2.16 million DKK for international research on water


Based on discovery of natural toxins in the fern bracken, Institute of Technology at Metropolitan University College has received EU funds together with many other participants for the new research networks NaToxAq, headed by University of Denmark. From 2017, the network will map the effect of a number of naturally occurring toxic substances on our drinking water.

Docent Lars Holm Rasmussen in front of bracken. Photo: Lars Holm Rasmussen, self-portrait

Lars Holm Rasmussen, senior associate lecturer (docent) at Metropolitan University College (MUC), Institute of Technology, may be particularly fond of his longstanding and close relationship with the ancient plant species bracken. His studies on what the poison found naturally in bracken means for human and animal health fit precisely into NaToxAq. 

Therefore Metropolitan University College just received good 2.16 million DKK. (€ 290,082) from the European research pool, that supports NaToxAq - Natural Toxins and Drinking Water Quality. NaToxAq is a European Training Network, and the funds will be spent to launch 15 PhD projects across Europe and the US - doctoral students to become experts in addressing future protection of the European drinking water.

At MUC, the EU funds will finance the recruitment of a PhD student and two graduate courses, research and exchange activities. In addition, a PhD student employed at HOFOR (Greater Copenhagen Utility) will conduct part of his/her research in close cooperation with Metropolitan University College. For instance, some of the analyzation will be conducted in MUC's R & D environment.  

- Being part of a first-class international research consortium will tone the activities both in research and development and in laboratory technician training for years to come, says Lars Holm Rasmussen, pointing out that one of the advantages of being in an international research team is that they get a platform to work from in relation to applications and research.

Professor Hans Christian Bruun from Copenhagen University heads the NaToxAq project, and participants come from 10 core institutions and 11 partner institutions - universities, government institutions, private companies, water utilities, technology providers and one university college (MUC).

Nature can make humans and animals sick

As Lars Holm Rasmussen points out, people have the general idea that if we avoid the known poisonous mushrooms and a few other poisonous plants, we are on safe ground, in the case of natural resources. However, studies show that in brachen there is a poison, ptaquilosid, which is suspected to be carcinogenic. This is just one of many naturally occurring toxins that scientists still have limited knowledge about, and on which the health regulations are not very thorough.

We do not eat ferns in Denmark, but it is the effect of the naturally occurring toxic substances on our drinking water, which has relevance in a Danish-European context. However, in Asia they do eat a lot of bracken  - the same way we use green beans and asparagus in Europe.

Institute of Technology at MUC has worked together with a number of researchers from Copenhagen University with the problem of naturally occurring toxins in plants for several years. The work has especially been within the environment chemical area where the naturally occurring toxic substances’ affect on the water quality is being investigated.

This effort to secure the EU's drinking water from natural toxins will now be intensified in the coming years with the NaToxAq network research.

Lars Holm Rasmussen has worked with bracken since 1999 from many different perspectives covering the botanical, the biochemical, the environmental chemistry in soil, and absorption and excretion from the organism.

Spin-offs from bracken

Lars Holm Rasmussen’s latest project with bracken is within food research. In NaToxAq the focus will be both on bracken and a variety of other plants and their drugs.     

- I expect that with this project we have set the course for how we create R & D in the years to come, says Lars Holm Rasmussen. Lars Holm Rasmussen elaborates his bright view of the future by mentioning how the NaToxAq project will result in many spin-offs that students and teachers can benefit from such as student projects, workshops, seminars, courses, conferences and field trips.

Read the original article here in Danish written by Anne Trap-Lind.