International Earth Day 2009

On this day, people volunteer to help clean their local courtyards and parks, plant flowers and trees throughout the city and participate in various other environmental improvement efforts. The holiday was founded to increase understanding and awareness of local and global environmental problems. Interested to learn more about what our Fulbright alumni think about today’s environmental issues, we asked them to answer the following questions:

What they consider to be the main global environmental problems today?

How are they affecting Russia specifically?

And what measures are people taking in Russia to address these problems?


Dr. Natalia Markelova, Ph.D.
Institute of Basic Biological Problems
Russian Academy of Sciences

I consider that the most pressing ecological problem now to be bacterial pollution of reservoirs which eventually leads to diseases in humans, animals and plants. In Russia in particular, many processing plants are not able to cope with their increasing loads, and therefore there are increased dangerous emissions leading to greater environmental contamination. The most traditionally used method for the elimination of the increased microbial pollution is disinfection. But it is not always possible to apply this method; many disinfectants, the most widespread disinfectant for this purpose is chlorine for example, are also pollutants, causing secondary environmental pollution. They cause failure in the natural relationships between the components of microbe communities and infringe upon global mechanisms of functioning ecosystems, destroying precious variations in all levels of the living world. Therefore, development of other methods to solve this problem is essential.

One alternative, an ecologically safe way for the improvement of the quality of water, can be the use of potential bacteria-predators such as Bdellovibrio. Bdellovibrio is considered to be the biological factor responsible for maintaining the microbial balance and regulation of density of microbe populations in nature. The pathogenic bacteria polluting the water represent the danger of distribution of infectious diseases. Therefore, the amount of Bdellovibrios, constant inhabitants of reservoirs, can be increased to help control the microbial pathogens, thus reducing their numbers and decreasing the risk of occurrence of infection. Now we are conducting research concerning in this area: Predator bacteria genus of Bdellovibrio with potential for new antibacterial agents.


Petr Vaganov, Professor of the Department of Ecological Geology, University of St.-Petersburg considers Russia's key environmental problems to be:
1) Water Pollution;
2) Poor Air Quality (in cities);
3) Solid and Hazardous Waste Generation and Disposal (in cities).


Professor Alexander Boldyrev
Department of Biochemistry School of Biology
Moscow State University

In my opinion, the major environmental problem today is the lack of pure potable water; the cheap ways of cleaning water are ineffective while the only effective methods developed are too expensive to apply on a global scale. The wide use of aluminum suspensions for clearing leads to high concentrations of aluminum in clean water, and thus to an increase in the overall consumption of aluminum. Our collaboration with D.Carpenter (SUNY University at Albany, NY, USA) and I.Birman (Institute of Health and Environment, Albany, NY, USA) has shown that though Aluminum is only faintly toxic for stable neurons, their activation sharply increases the toxicity of this metal (Neurochemistry, 2005, 22, 287-291; Neurotox. Res. 2006, 9, 297-304), leading to the death of neurological cells. This data demonstrates closer control over the cleanliness of the water processed by means of aluminum suspensions.

Another problem requiring attention is the steady decrease in the quality of food available to the lower classes of society. Even considering only the basic food demands of these peoples, there are no biologically active components in it that are inherent in high-quality food. Such food for regular consumption does not support an organism to develop sufficient immunities, maintain a healthy psychological state, or support the necessary level of hormones.

For more than 30 years we have investigated the properties of neuropeptide Carnosine: serving as a natural metabolic activator in humans and animals and as a defense against oxidizing stress. It is commonly found in greater quantities in such products as a high-grade beef, sturgeon, tuna fillets, etc. Its’ useful properties have been analyzed in the recently published monograph (Boldyrev A., Carnosine and protection of cells and tissues from oxidative stress, NY, 2007). Now a lot of countries (USA, Japan, Russia, etc.) have begun to produce Carnosine, which is recommended for the improvement in the quality of life after a transferred disease, severe psychological stress, and extreme physical activities.

Medical research data testifies to the fact that Carnosine improves the condition of patients with Parkinson’s disease, patients recovering from heart attacks, etc. (Biol. Membranes, 2008, 25, 479-483; Rejuvenation Res., 2008, 11, 988-994). These results provide the evidentiary support to recommend Carnosine for regular ingestion by elderly and weak patients, and also by malnourished persons. It is important to pay attention to this social and medical problem, both in Russia, and in other countries of the world with a low standards of living low life-expectancy rates.

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