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NATO to fund cork research project

Published:  23 July, 2008

NATO is to fund a major research project to investigate the problem of pesticide contamination in cork forests.

Under NATO's Science for Peace programme, a three-year study is to be carried out by the University of Paisley alongside academics from Instituto de Biologica Experimental e Technologica in Lisbon; University Hasan II Ain Chock in Casablanca, Morocco; INRST in Tunisia; and the Universita Catholica del Sacro Cuore in Placenza, Italy.

NATO is collaborating because the project involves scientists from countries outside but close to NATO states, namely Morocco and Tunisia, as cork contamination is a trans-boundary problem', said Professor Andrew Hursthouse of the University of Paisley.

The University of Paisley, which was established in 1992 from the former Institute of Science & Art, had to fight stiff competition' for its role in the research, says Hursthouse, professor in environmental geochemistry and current president of the National Society for Clean Air & Environmental Protection Scotland.

Valued at 380,000 (247,000), the project will study pesticides in cork oak forests in North Africa and transfer mechanisms in the forest ecosystem. In turn, advice will be given on management and remedial strategies for pollutants in the food chain. Portugal will be the lead research country, while the UK, which receives 26,000, will additionally fund a PhD student who will work with Hursthouse.

The scientists say that pesticide contamination in cork forests is thought to be responsible for cork taint, which costs the wine trade more than 10 billion and affects up to 5% of wine annually.

The cork industry is important to the North African economy. It is essential that the cork taint problem is investigated both to support the use of real cork by the wine industry and to help protect biodiversity in the Mediterranean coastline,' said Hursthouse.

Over the next three years, the University of Paisley will host visits by staff and students from the collaborating partners, which is one of the key aims of the NATO initiative. Under the terms of NATO, projects for the Science for Peace programme are awarded by its international scientific committee on a competitive basis.