food, origin, soil
The project overview
The Citizen Science project "IsoPROTECT: Protecting regional food production in Austria with isotope and multielement fingerprints" was an extension of the Sparkling Science project CSI: TRACE your FOOD! and was carried out by the VIRIS Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. The primary goal of the project was the systematic extension of the data set for the production of an isoscape of Austria, which serves the proof of origin of local regionally produced food. In addition, the goal was to make the data accessible to a wider public through an online database.
How could citizen scientists participate?
The systematic extension of the 87Sr/86Sr isotope map for soils has been successfully implemented through the participation of 8 food producers and 7 schools. The producers took part in the sampling and provided important additional information on production conditions (e.g. fertilization, liming). Thus, soil samples were collected and further processed from a total of 27 different sites. At schools, the soil samples were dried, sieved, and the parameters pH value and Ca concentration in water extracts were determined. This was followed by a digital transmission of the field measurement data to the VIRIS laboratory via an online form, as well as the delivery of the dried and sieved soil samples for the further mass spectrometric analyzes of the 87Sr/86Sr isotope ratio and the multielement pattern to the VIRIS laboratory. The obtained results showed that all soil samples could be assigned to their origin by 100% using the 87Sr/86Sr isotope ratio together with the concentrations of Mn, Cu, Zn, Rb and Ba.
Individual pupils and teachers participated in the project as part of three school theses and thus contributed significantly to the evaluation and presentation of the data. For example the evaluation of the significance of the field determination of the Ca concentration in comparison to the data obtained in the laboratory of a selected set of samples was conducted as part of a diploma thesis at the HTL Dornbirn. Furthermore, due to the interest of a pupil of the Franziskaner Gymnasium Hall in Tyrol, a cooperation with a developer and operator of Aquaponic plants was started and comprehensive analyzes of the chemical composition of the water were conducted. This was used as a topic for another school thesis. Moreover, this was the first time that the project approached the topic of determining the origin of tomatoes cultivated on liquid media.
What happened to the contributions of citizen scientists?
With the help of citizen scientists the isotope map for soils was extended. Due to the interest of companies and individual students, new topics and research questions were also included in the project. For example, an optimized measurement method was developed for varying concentrations of macro and microelements in different types of vegetables. The reason for this was the special interest of the producer of Sauwald potatoes on the multi-element fingerprint, since e.g. these are advertised with special potassium content; in addition Styrian seed beans and Lavanttaler asparagus were analyzed in more detail for the multielement pattern. This resulted in the idea of a future systematic "food profiling" as additional information provided by the producers to their customers in order to convey the special composition and quality of a food.
The data obtained have been and will continue to be presented at conferences and published in scientific publications.
The sustainability of the project was made possible by the successful implementation of the IsoPROTECT approach in the newly founded K1 center "FFoQSI" ("Feed and Food Quality Safety and Innovation", https://www.ffoqsi.at/) in a central strategic area for the "Determination of origin and authenticity of food and feed".
Participating and supporting institutions
- University of Life Sciences and Natural Resources, Research Group Analytical Ecogeochemistry (VIRIS) (project leader)
- University of Life Sciences and Natural Resources, Institut für Bodenforschung (project partner)
- Wassercluster Lunz (project partner)
- BMNT (project partner)
- Sir Karl Popper Schule (project partner school)
- Bundes- Oberstufenrealgymnasium Bad Radkersburg (project partner school)
- Höhere Lehranstalt für wirtschaftliche Berufe Bad Ischl (project partner school)
- Franziskaner Gymnasium Hall (project partner school)
- Höhere Bundeslehranstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung Pitzelstätten (project partner school)
- Höhere Technische Bundeslehr- und Versuchsanstalt Dornbirn (project partner school)
- Zweisprachiges Bundesgymnasium Oberwart (project partner school)
- Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (project funding)