The Incredible Nitrogen MachineEvery time you take a breath you bring in molecules of a variety of gases into your lungs. The gas that most of us know about and the one that keeps us alive on a second-by-second basis is oxygen. For every 100 molecules of air that comes into our lungs, 79 of them are nitrogen. I have seen science books tell kids that nitrogen is basically inert and not important to our lives since it is the oxygen that we take immediately from the air to sustain our metabolism. The fact is, however, that nitrogen is just as important as oxygen. Nitrogen is the key ingredient of amino and nucleic acids, the basic building blocks of proteins and our genes. The problem is that our bodies cannot take nitrogen gas and turn it into amino acids or nucleic acids. In order for this to happen nitrogen has to be combined with other atoms into a form that living things can use.
The earth has been designed in such a way that this happens by several different processes. One way is for lightning and meteor strikes to force nitrogen to combine with oxygen making nitrates. This cosmic process cannot provide all the processed nitrogen needed for amino and nucleic acids. The agents that do most of this for us are bacteria. A single pinch of soil out of your garden may contain as many as 10,000 bacterial species which not only process nitrogen but also carbon into forms that living things can use. These bacteria take the nitrogen out of the air and combine it with hydrogen to make ammonia. Some plants like beans, peas, alfalfa, lupines, and vetch actually allow bacteria called rhizobium bacteria to penetrate their roots. In the roots these bacteria process the nitrogen as well as producing complex sugars.
Mankind is struggling to duplicate what God has designed in nature. Fertilizer produced by a process called the Haber process is being produced by man to enrich soils and allow agriculture in places where nitrates and ammonia are not present in significant amounts. Only about 1% of the bacteria that turn nitrogen gas into useful compounds have been identified, so man's understanding of the complex processes that allow life to flourish on this planet are still in a pretty primitive state. Seeing this incredible nitrogen machine can speak loudly to us about the wisdom of God seen in such simple things as how to get a plant to grow so that all kinds of life can exist on this planet we call Earth.
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