WHAT IS NITROGEN CYCLE? WHAT ARE THE STAGES OF NITROGEN CYCLE?

Our atmosphere is made up of 78% nitrogen. This element is essential for all living beings but we cannot directly take the nitrogen from the environment. We must absorb it through our food. The nitrogen cycle follows the circulation of nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil, to animals and back. Nitrogen in the atmosphere falls to the earth through snow and rain. Once in the soil, the nitrogen combines with the hydrogen on the roots of the plants to form ammonia. This process is called Nitrogen fixation. Additional bacteria further combine this ammonia with oxygen in a process called Nitrification. At this point, the nitrogen is in a form called nitrite, which is further converted into nitrate by the bacteria. Plants can absorb nitrogen in this state through a process called assimilation and the rest is utilised by the bacteria. The remainder is released back into the atmosphere through the process of denitrification.

Nitrogen Cycle Explained – Stages of Nitrogen Cycle

Process of the Nitrogen Cycle consists of the following steps – Nitrogen fixation, Nitrification, Assimilation, Ammonification and Denitrification. These processes take place in several stages and are explained below:

Nitrogen Fixation Process

It is the initial step of the nitrogen cycle. Here, Atmospheric nitrogen (N2) which is primarily available in an inert form, is converted into the usable form -ammonia (NH3).

During the process of Nitrogen fixation, the inert form of nitrogen gas is deposited into soils from the atmosphere and surface waters, mainly through precipitation.

The entire process of Nitrogen fixation is completed by symbiotic bacteria, which are known as Diazotrophs. Azotobacter and Rhizobium also have a major role in this process. These bacteria consist of a nitrogenase enzyme, which has the capability to combine gaseous nitrogen with hydrogen to form ammonia.

Nitrogen fixation can occur either by atmospheric fixation- which involves lightening, or industrial fixation by manufacturing ammonia under high temperature and pressure conditions. This can also be fixed through man-made processes, primarily industrial processes that create ammonia and nitrogen-rich fertilisers.

Assimilation

Primary producers – plants take in the nitrogen compounds from the soil with the help of their roots, which are available in the form of ammonia, nitrite ions, nitrate ions or ammonium ions and are used in the formation of the plant and animal proteins. This way, it enters the food web when the primary consumers eat the plants.

Ammonification

When plants or animals die, the nitrogen present in the organic matter is released back into the soil. The decomposers, namely bacteria or fungi present in the soil, convert the organic matter back into ammonium. This process of decomposition produces ammonia, which is further used for other biological processes.

Denitrification

Denitrification is the process in which the nitrogen compounds make their way back into the atmosphere by converting nitrate (NO3-)  into gaseous nitrogen (N). This process of the nitrogen cycle is the final stage and occurs in the absence of oxygen. Denitrification is carried out by the denitrifying bacterial species- Clostridium and Pseudomonas, which will process nitrate to gain oxygen and gives out free nitrogen gas as a byproduct.

Conclusion

Nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere, but it is unusable to plants or animals unless it is converted into nitrogen compounds.

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria play a crucial role in fixing atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds that can be used by plants.

The plants absorb the usable nitrogen compounds from the soil through their roots. Then, these nitrogen compounds are used for the production of proteins and other compounds in the plant cell.

Animals assimilate nitrogen by consuming these plants or other animals that contain nitrogen. Humans consume proteins from these plants and animals. The nitrogen then assimilates into our body system.

During the final stages of the nitrogen cycle, bacteria and fungi help decompose organic matter, where the nitrogenous compounds get dissolved into the soil which is again used by the plants.

Some bacteria then convert these nitrogenous compounds in the soil and turn it into nitrogen gas. Eventually, it goes back to the atmosphere.

These sets of processes repeat continuously and thus maintain the percentage of nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Credit : BYJU’S 

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WHAT ARE KEYSTONE SPECIES?

Keystone species play a unique and crucial role in the functioning of an ecosystem. The animals and organisms that come under this category help to maintain biodiversity within their community either by controlling populations of other species that would otherwise dominate the community or by providing critical resources for the survival of a wide range of organisms.

These species act as the glue that holds the system together. The term was coined by Dr Robert Paine in 1969, to describe the power a single species exerts on an ecosystem. Examples of keystone species include starfish, sea otters, beavers, wolves, elephants, prairiedogs and bees.

Keystone Species Examples

Sea Otter

The sea otter (shown below) is considered a keystone species as their consumption of sea urchins, preventing the destruction of kelp forests caused by the sea urchin population. Kelp forests are a critical habitat for many species in nearshore ecosystems. In the absence of sea otters, sea urchins feed on the nearshore kelp forests, thereby disrupting these nearshore ecosystems. However, when sea otters are present, their consumption of sea urchins restricts the sea urchin population to smaller organisms confined to protective crevices. Thus, the sea otter protects the kelp forests by reducing the local sea urchin population.

Large Mammalian Predators

While small predators are important keystone species in many ecosystems, as mentioned above, large mammalian predators are also considered keystone species in larger ecosystems. For example, the lion, jaguar (shown below), and gray wolf are considered keystone species as they help balance large ecosystems (e.g., Central and South American rainforests) by consuming a wide variety of prey species.

Sea Star

Sea stars (shown below) are another commonly recognized keystone species as they consume mussels in areas without natural predators. In many cases, when the sea star is removed from an ecosystem, the population of mussels proliferates uncontrollably, and negatively effects the resources available to other species within the ecosystem.

Credit :  Biology dictionary  

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CAN PLANTS GROW ON LUNAR SOIL?

 

Have you ever looked up at our moon and wondered if it was possible to grow plants there? According to a new study published in Communications Biology, the answer is maybe. Success in growing a plant on the moon, it seems, depends on where exactly the planting is done.

The research, performed by a team of two horticulturists and one geologist from the University of Florida, showed for the first time that plants could be grown in lunar soil. The results are an important step towards humanity's ambitions of making long-term stays on the moon possible.

Third-time lucky

The research has been in the making for a long time. This was the third time that these scientists had applied to NASA over the last 11 years for samples of soil brought back to the Earth by any or all of the six Apollo landing missions. Having been declined on the first two instances, the researchers got their wish this time around.

Probably because NASA themselves are planning longer excursions to our natural satellite, they parted with 12 grams of soil about 18 months ago. This soil was gathered by the crews of Apollos 11, 12, and 17 and were part of just 382 kg of lunar soil and rocks brought back during the Apollo missions.

The researchers chose the thale cress plant, both because of its hardiness and the fact that its genome has been fully sequenced. The planting was done in plastic plates with wells that are usually used to grow cell cultures. There were four wells apiece for each of the three Apollo missions, and they got a gram of soil each. Four more wells were used as a control, with simulated lunar soil prepared using earthly materials.

To their astonishment, researchers noticed that the seeds sprouted after two days. Regardless of whether they were growing in a lunar sample or in the control, they looked the same for the first six days. Differences began to emerge after that as the plants grown in lunar soil showed stress, developed slowly, and ended up being stunted.

Geological age factor

There were also differences within the lunar samples as the Apollo 11 plans grew most poorly, followed by Apollo 12 and then Apollo 17. The researchers concluded that the reason for this has to do with the age of the soil. While the samples brought back by Apollo 11 are older geologically than those brought back by Apollo 12, the samples from Apollo 17 are most recent in geological time.

The results from this research are very important as it helps us develop food sources for future astronauts who might live and operate in deep space for extended durations. Such plant growth research could also unlock innovations in agriculture that might allow us to grow plants under stressful conditions in places where food is scarce here on Earth.

Picture Credit : Google 

WHY SOMETIMES WE CAN SEE MORE THAN THE CRESCENT MOON?

Although we usually see only the brightly lit part of the moon during its crescent phase, we sometimes see the other part too, though dimly lit.

What's the reason?

Earth reflects the sun's light falling on it just like the  moon does. The earth, in fact, is a better reflector than the moon. The oceans which cover three-fourths of the earth's surface, reflect a lot of solar radiation back into space. So just as we have moonlight here, there is earthlight on the dark side of the moon. It is this earthlight which makes the moon beyond the crescent dimly visible to us.

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WHAT IS GRAVITATIONAL SINGULARITY?

A gravitational singularity, spacetime singularity or simply singularity is a condition in which gravity is so intense that spacetime itself breaks down catastrophically. As such, a singularity is by definition no longer part of the regular spacetime and cannot be determined by "where" or "when". Trying to find a complete and precise definition of singularities in the theory of general relativity, the current best theory of gravity, remains a difficult problem. A singularity in general relativity can be defined by the scalar invariant curvature becoming infinite or, better, by a geodesic being incomplete.

Gravitational singularities are mainly considered in the context of general relativity, where density apparently becomes infinite at the center of a black hole, and within astrophysics and cosmology as the earliest state of the universe during the Big Bang/White Hole. Physicists are undecided whether the prediction of singularities means that they actually exist (or existed at the start of the Big Bang), or that current knowledge is insufficient to describe what happens at such extreme densities.

General relativity predicts that any object collapsing beyond a certain point (for stars this is the Schwarzschild radius) would form a black hole, inside which a singularity (covered by an event horizon) would be formed. The Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems define a singularity to have geodesics that cannot be extended in a smooth manner. The termination of such a geodesic is considered to be the singularity.

The initial state of the universe, at the beginning of the Big Bang, is also predicted by modern theories to have been a singularity. In this case, the universe did not collapse into a black hole, because currently-known calculations and density limits for gravitational collapse are usually based upon objects of relatively constant size, such as stars, and do not necessarily apply in the same way to rapidly expanding space such as the Big Bang. Neither general relativity nor quantum mechanics can currently describe the earliest moments of the Big Bang, but in general, quantum mechanics does not permit particles to inhabit a space smaller than their wavelengths.

Credit : Wikipedia 

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