Nitrogen: Essential to Protein

NitrogenOf the primary nutrients, nitrogen is considered most important. That’s because nitrogen is essential in the formation of protein, and protein makes up much of the tissues present in most living things.

Earth’s atmosphere is actually about 78 percent nitrogen by volume, and all living things must have it to survive. Most plants can’t get their nitrogen directly from the air. Instead, nitrogen use follows an indirect path called the nitrogen cycle.

Nitrogen in the soil isn’t always immediately available to the plant as a nutrient. In fact, up to 98 percent of the nitrogen present in the soil is a component of decaying organic or plant matter that is unavailable to plants in its existing form. Various soil bacteria does much of the work converting soil nitrogen to an inorganic form usable by plants. These busy microorganisms, mostly invisible without magnification, combine elemental nitrogen with hydrogen and oxygen in a process called mineralization that makes N accessible to plants.

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