Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Secret Ingredient For The Health Of Tropical Rainforests Discovered

A team of researchers led by Princeton University scientists has found for the first time that tropical rainforests, a vital part of the Earth's ecosystem, rely on the rare trace element molybdenum to capture the nitrogen fertilizer needed to support their wildly productive growth. Most of the nitrogen that supports the rapid, lush growth of rainforests comes from tiny bacteria that can turn nitrogen in the air into fertilizer in the soil.

Until now, scientists had thought that phosphorus was the key element supporting the prodigious expansion of rainforests, according to Lars Hedin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University who led the research. But an experiment testing the effects of various elements on test plots in lowland rainforests on the Gigante Peninsula in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Panama showed that areas treated with molybdenum withdrew more nitrogen from the atmosphere than other elements.

The biological enzyme, nitrogenase, which converts atmospheric nitrogen into soil fertilizer, feeds on molybdenum, the researchers found. "Just like trace amounts of vitamins are essential for human health, this exceedingly rare trace metal is indispensable for the vital function of tropical rainforests in the larger Earth system," Hedin said. Molybdenum is 10,000 times less abundant than phosphorus and other major nutrients in these ecosystems.
When I was taking chemistry in high school, everybody had to do a report about an element from the periodic table. I was assigned molybdenum. I remember that I thought it should be pronounced moly-bdenum whereas the wordanistas over at Websters thought it should be mo·lyb·de·num. Other than that, molybdenum was kind of a boring element. Looks like that has all changed with this news and the kids in chemistry classes will be fighting to be able to report on molybdenum.

via Science Daily

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