Wetenschap - 18 januari 2001

English Summary

The figures are now available for the number of new students who enroled in 2000 at Wageningen University.

With 668 Dutch students enroling numbers were down by 11 percent on 1999. The decline is especially among students coming straight from school. The number coming from other technical education courses has remained almost constant. The biggest decline is in the enrolments for Environmental Studies and Land Management. The latter is a new course born of a merger between land management and tropical land use. It is not yet clear whether incoming students realised that this was where one of the traditional 'tropical' courses offered by Wageningen had ended up, so some may have missed the boat. The figures for the international MSc enrolments will be published next week in the Wisp'r.

Arnold van Vliet of the Environmental Systems Analysis group has called on the help of radio listeners to track the effects of climate change on nature in the Netherlands:

when the first snowdrop flowers, the first swallow sighting and other such events indicate climate patterns. Observations have been monitored on a small scale for many years, but during the Sunday morning Radio 1 programme 'Vroege Vogels' (early birds, ed.) Van Vliet explained about the information packet which interested volunteers can receive to help record their observations in a way which scientists can use. A website will also start on 4 February: www.natuurkalender.nl

European agriculture could produce the same amounts using an eighth of the amount of pesticides currently used and half the area,

declared Professor Rudy Rabbinge of the Plant Production Systems Group at a meeting on pesticides at the Royal Dutch Chemical Society on 10 January. EU farmers use 315 million kg of active ingredients in pesticides, but according to Rabbinge this quantity can be reduced to a maximum of 40 and perhaps even as low as 10 million kg. By using the most advanced techniques and the best land they could reduce the current agricultural area of 140 million ha to 70 million ha. Rabbinge suggested that one of the biggest obstacles at present is farmers' mismanagement in their use of pesticides.

The American Institute of Medicine has recently adjusted its recommendations for daily intake of certain substances, including that of beta-carotene. Wageningen researchers played a key role in these changes, although the norms were not adjusted as much as they would have liked. In developing countries about 30 percent of child mortality is a result of vitamin A deficiency. If the human body does not receive sufficient amounts of vitamin A it starts to make it from other substances, especially beta-carotene. People who eat little or no animal products are most at risk of shortages. It was thought that 6 micrograms of beta-carotene was enough to produce 1 microgram of vitamin A, but research done under the supervision of Clive West of the Sub-department of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology in Wageningen suggests that 21 micrograms of beta-carotene is needed to make 1 microgram of vitamin A. West says that caution was the reason that the Institute of Medicine set the guideline at 12 micrograms of beta-carotene.