Determination of Essentiality


Determination of Essentiality
Nitrogen Metabolism and Nitrogenous Constituents in Plants
  Nitrate Assimilation
    - Nitrate Reductase
    - Nitrite Reductase
  Ammonium Assimilation
    - Glutamine Synthetase
    - Glutamate Synthase
    - Glutamic Acid Dehydrogenase
    - Transamination
    - Amidation
  Proteins and Other Nitrogenous Compounds
Diagnosis of Nitrogen Status in Plants
  Symptoms of Deficiency and Excess
  Concentrations of Nitrogen in Plants
    - Concentrations of Nitrogen in Plant Parts
    - Ratios of Concentrations of Nitrogen to Other Nutrients in Plants
Nitrogen in Soils
  Forms of Nitrogen in Soils
    - Organic Nitrogen in Soil
    - Inorganic Nitrogen in Soil
Soil Testing for Nitrogen
  Determinations of Total Nitrogen
  Biological Determinations of Availability Indexes
    - Determination of Inorganic Nitrogen
      - Ammonium
      - Nitrate
      - Amino Sugars
Nitrogen Fertilizers
  Properties and Use of Nitrogen Fertilizers
    - Anhydrous Ammonia: 82% N
    - Aqua Ammonia: 21% N
    - Urea: 46% N
    - Ammonium Nitrate: 34% N
    - Ammonium Sulfate: 21% N
    - Nitrogen Solutions: 28–32% N
    - Ammonium Phosphates: 10–21% N
    - Other Inorganic Nitrogen Fertilizers
    - Organic Nitrogen Fertilizers: 0.2–15% N
Discovery of the essentiality of nitrogen is often credited to de Saussure (1-3), who in 1804 recognized that nitrogen was a vital constituent of plants, and that nitrogen was obtained mainly from the soil. De Saussure noted that plants absorb nitrates and other mineral matter from solution, but not in the proportions in which they were present in solution, and that plants absorbed substances that were not required for plant growth, even poisonous substances (2). Other scientists of the time believed that nitrogen in plant nutrition came from the air. The scientists reasoned that if it was possible for plants to obtain carbon from the air, which is a mere 0.03% carbon dioxide (by volume), then it would be easy for plants to obtain nitrogen from the air, which is almost 80% nitrogen gas. Greening was observed in plants that were exposed to low levels of ammonia in air, further suggesting that nitrogen nutrition came from the air.

Liebig (1–3) wrote in the 1840s, at the time when he killed the humus theory (the concept that plants obtain carbon from humus in soil rather than from the air), that plants require water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and ash as constituents. Liebig supported the theory that plants obtained nitrogen as ammonium from the air, and his failure to include nitrogen in his “patent manure” was a weakness of the product. Plants will absorb ammonia at low concentrations from the air, but most air contains unsubstantial amounts of ammonia relative to that which is needed for plant nutrition.

The concept that nitrogen was acquired from the air or from soil organic matter was dismissed in the mid-1800s, as it was shown that crop yields rose as a result of fertilization of soil. Using laboratory methods of de Saussure, Boussingault (1), in field research of 1838, developed balances of carbon, dry matter, and mineral matter in crops. Boussingault established a special position for legumes in nitrogen nutrition, a position that Liebig did not support (1). Other research also showed that different nitrogen fertilizers varied in their effectiveness for supporting crop production, with potassium nitrate often being a better fertilizer than ammonium salts (1). Microbial transformations of nitrogen in the soil made it doubtful as to which source was actually the best and which form of nitrogen entered into plants. Studies made with sterile media and in water culture demonstrated that plants may utilize nitrate or ammonium and that one or the other might be superior depending on the species and other conditions. At the time when much of this research was performed, organic fertilizers (farm manures) and gas-water (ammonia derived from coal gases) were the only ones that were cost-effective, considering the value of farm crops and the cost of the fertilizers. With the development of the Haber process in 1909 for the synthesis of ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gases, ammonia could be made cheaply, leading to the development of the nitrogen fertilizer industry.

The recognition of the importance of nitrogen in plants predates much of the relatively modernday research of de Saussure and others. It was written as early as the 1660s and 1670s (1,3) that plants benefitted from nitre or saltpeter (potassium nitrate), that plants accumulated nitre, and that the fertility of the land with respect to nitre affected the quality of crops for storage and yields of sugar.