Abstract

Phosphorus is a chemical element that is essential to life because of its role in numerous key molecules, including DNA and RNA; indeed, organisms require large amounts of P to grow rapidly. However, the supply of P from the environment is often limiting to production, including to crops. Thus, large amounts of P are mined annually to produce fertilizer that is applied in support of the 'Green Revolution.' However, much of this fertilizer eventually ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans where it causes costly eutrophication. Furthermore, given increasing human population, expanding meat consumption, and proliferating bioenergy pressures, concerns have recently been raised about the long-term geological, economic, and geopolitical viability of mined P for fertilizer production. Together, these issues highlight the non-sustainable nature of current human P use. To achieve P sustainability, farms need to become more efficient in how they use P while society as a whole must develop technologies and practices to recycle P from the food chain. Such large-scale changes will probably require a radical restructuring of the entire food system, highlighting the need for prompt but sustained action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-838
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology
Volume23
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2012

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Fertilizers
Phosphorus
Nutrients
Food
Eutrophication
Food Chain
Meats
Lakes
RNA
Rivers
Oceans and Seas
Chemical elements
Meat
Farms
Crops
Sustainable development
DNA
Economics
Technology
Pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering

Cite this

Phosphorus : A limiting nutrient for humanity? / Elser, James.

In: Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Vol. 23, No. 6, 12.2012, p. 833-838.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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