Written by Mike Hamilton, CCA & President of Turf Dietitian
Now that Turf Dietitian is testing plant tissue for Amino Acids (AAs), we need to acquire knowledge about AA’s role in the plant life cycle before we can interpret the data, and therefore, help you, our customer.
I’m going to attempt to convey to you what I learned, or think I’ve learned, about amino acids and the many roles they play in every living organism on earth. Trying to understand what I was reading was a monumental task, simply because I don’t speak the same language as research PhDs.
How important is it for you to know everything about the role amino acids play in a plant’s metabolism? The truth is, it’s not essential at all. Most of the time, superior knowledge doesn’t translate into superior turf-growing skills.
If you’re using amino acid products or plan to, most of what you need to know you can get from the product manufacturer, the person who sells the product, or by calling someone like me who damaged brain cells trying to figure out how amino acids can impact your success. But seriously, if you are curious and want to know the causes and effects of natural processes, then read on.
I did include a chart at the end of this article that I recommend you look at. This chart breaks down each amino acid and shows what scientists believe they do in a plant. I think we are years away from having individual amino acid products to enhance plant health, but just look at the potential and give me your feedback.
Before starting down this road of understanding, we, at Turf Dietitian, had to ask ourselves how much we currently know about AAs. So, our technical team sat down and made a list of everything we knew about AAs:
- AAs are the building blocks for plant proteins.
- There are 20 essential AAs used by plants. (Not all scientists agree with this statement)
- AAs are used for the chelation of nutrients for foliar absorption.
- AAs are used in cancer treatments and other illnesses in humans and other mammals.
So essentially, we knew nothing about what AAs are and how they relate to a plant’s metabolic function! However, that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? After all, we have Google to count on to provide us with the information we need. So off we went to a Google search bar, and typed in, “What is the function of AAs in plants”? We pulled up several articles, printed them out, and sent our staff off for review.
It took no more than 10 minutes for me to have my first “Oh Shit Moment.” The first paragraph on the first page of 70 pages took me 30 minutes to get through. I had to Google 15 words from the first paragraph to translate them into a language that I could understand. My staff’s experience as they read parts of the articles was, they had very little comprehension of what they read.
The first word I Googled was homeostasis. No big deal, right? I’ve heard the word before, so that should be easy to understand. The meaning of homeostasis is the property of any living organism in which internal systems are kept in balance. That’s not what I thought homeostasis meant, but it was fairly understandable. After all I preach nutrient balance every day.
My next googled search was “How do AAs keep the internal systems in a plant balanced”? That was my second oh shit moment! That search took me into a deep rabbit hole that included many new searches and hundreds of words and topics to google. I went down so many rabbit holes, I had to go to Google Maps to find my way out!
But finally, through this process, I did actually learn much more about AAs than I knew when I started. One comforting conclusion I had was that even the geniuses that wrote these papers didn’t have a complete understanding and did not have the data to confirm most of their theories. The truth is mankind is just now starting to study and research amino acids and proteins in plants. I didn’t attempt to go down the protein rabbit hole because it is even more complex.
It truly is a misfortune that mankind has a limited comprehension of the many functions of amino acids in a plant or, for that matter, any living organism. Amino Acids, proteins, peptides, and carbohydrates and the magical life of plants and microorganisms may hold the key to disease prevention, mental subtility, the quality of life, and longevity in all living organisms.
Now to give you my best synopsis of the dozens of technical articles I read. One of the reasons this information about amino acids is so hard to wrap your head around is one has to attempt to figure out what came first, the chicken or egg, or in this case the seed or plant.
Plant functions begin with the energy of the sun and a chemical reaction between 6 carbon dioxide molecules and 12 water molecules 6CO2 + 12H2O + light. The reaction of those molecules with the energy of the sun produces glucose (sugar or plant food) C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O. The full equation is called photosynthesis.
You may ask what photosynthesis has to do with amino acids? More than the Scientific community knows at this time! Scientists know amino acids or groups of amino acids play a major role in photosynthesis along with every process in the plant (constructing RNA, respiration, transpiration, cell elongation and division, synthesis of yeast and starch just to name a few). There simply hasn’t been enough research conducted by Scientists to test and make predations based on their hypothesis.
The majority of photosynthesis transpires in the leaves of plants. Carbon dioxide enters the leaf through the stomata. Once the carbon dioxide enters the leaf, organic molecules separate the CO2. The carbon portion is stored in chlorophyll while the O2 is released back out of the stomata into the atmosphere (which all living organisms use to survive.) The H2O portion of photosynthesis enters the roots of plants and transports them to the leaf through the plant’s vascular system. The H2O molecules are broken down the same as CO2, in which the hydrogen mixes with the carbon to form glucose. Glucose becomes the organic energy (food), that is required for the plant to produce and reproduce cells that build the structure of the plant.
The purpose of photosynthesis doesn’t end there. Just like humans, plants need dynamic energy to pump food and water through the plant body to be used in every metabolic function of the plant. Therefore, the sun’s energy used in the photosynthesis process is also stored in chlorophyll along with carbon and hydrogen. The energy, carbon, and hydrogen in the chlorophyll mix with nitrogen and phosphorous to form Adenosine 5a′- triphosphate (ATP). ATP combines with citric acid to form the Krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle can best be described as a biological motor, which powers all the metabolic functions of the plant. Amino Acids have their little hands all over all these reactions.
Many Scientists believe that plants communicate through a mycorrhizal network and by secreting organic compounds (Amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, enzymes), otherwise known as signaling. There are studies that theorize that plants have the ability to share resources to help heal sick plants, to protect their ‘children’, and to punish plants that refuse to share. If it’s not an emotional response, then it must be a survival instinct. Yet can a plant have instincts without a brain.
It always amazes me how similar plants and animals are. There are obvious differences, but the inner workings of plants and animals are very similar. Why do I bring that up? Because everything plants produce is needed by animals to survive. Animals produce only 9 amino acids, and plants produce 20. All of the 11 additional AA’s the plant produces are currently used to prevent and cure a large number of human illnesses, including cancer.
I feel there are several things we need to learn to determine what the data we are collecting means for the health of your turfgrass.
- What are all the functions of each individual amino acid or group of Amino Acids in a plant?
- Are there levels of an individual amino acid that are toxic or counterproductive in a plant?
- Does anyone know the proper balance of amino acids in each specific plant?
- Are there individual amino acid products currently on the market for specific plant needs?
- What are the levels of each amino acid product that contains all 20 amino?
- How difficult is it to manufacture amino products?
I believe this is a graph of the ideal levels of all the Amino Acids produced by a healthy human thyroid. Now we need one of these for a healthy turfgrass plant.
Amino acids are small organic molecules that are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins serve as structural support inside the cell, and they perform many vital chemical reactions. Each protein is a molecule made up of different combinations of 20 types of smaller, simpler amino acids. Protein molecules are long chains of amino acids that are folded into a three-dimensional shape.
The sequence and interactions between the side chains of these different amino acids allow each protein to fold into a specific three-dimensional shape and perform biological functions.
All of the 20 Alpha amino acids have the same basic structure of a carboxylic acid group and an amine group attached to one carbon atom. What makes all 20 amino acids different from each other is a side chain, known as an R group, that is also attached to the same carbon atom. The side groups have either a positive or a negative charge that attaches to each other to form amino acid chains. The R groups have a variety of shapes, sizes, charges, and reactivities. This allows amino acids to be grouped according to their side chains as either non-polar, polar, or basic to form proteins.
- Non-polar amino acids are hydrophobic, and they form the center of the protein molecule.
- Polar amino acids are soluble and form the outside of the protein molecule.
- A basic amino acid has a neutral pH and has NH4 in its side chain.
Every A-amino acid plays a unique role in likely all the plants’ metabolic functions. Each individual AA has its own unique responsibility within the plant but is dependent on other AAs to link up to complete the necessary function. There is the potential for there to be an infinite number of combinations of amino acid chains, all of which may be responsible for an infinite number of functions.
In the last ten years, the study of amino acids in plant development has increased dramatically. More has been learned about amino acids in the last 10 years than in the last 2 centuries. Besides being building blocks for protein synthesis, all individual a-amino is being proven to have a significant role in plant development, playing a role in every plant function. Amino Acids are being identified as a major contributor to a plant’s response to environmental stresses, and the transportation of nutrients, carbohydrates, and other carbon-based molecules from cell to cell.
Plants are exposed to life-threatening environmental conditions ranging from drought to flooding, high salinity, or extreme temperatures, which often coincide with attacks by various pathogens.
Many aspects of this complex regulatory system are still unknown, but amino acids are most assuredly involved in every aspect. Amino acids also play a role in plant signaling and communication.
The nature of signaling molecules has been studied immensely throughout animal kingdoms. However, plants share some similar amino acid groups that mediate cell function and translate these signals to survive. It’s also believed that plants secrete specific amino acids in order to communicate with soil microorganisms. Past research in this area has been conducted mostly in native forests, but several research projects are being undertaken in several agricultural plants.
Below you will find a chart that shows what each individual amino acid is responsible for in a plant as we know of today. As research continues and the scientific community learns more about amino acids and proteins, the better it will be for not only plants but also for all mankind. The potential for better plant and animal health is only limited by the sum of man’s intelligence.