|1||1||An amazing fifty percent of the nitrogen molecules now found in human tissues originated inside an industrial machine invented relatively recently.1||Likely true? |
Various sources echoed the 50% estimate (with a few instead calling out 80% but they were outliers and were likely confused by the statistic that 80% of Nitrogen created in the process is used for crops, not accounting for nitrogen lost to the environement) with popular science being the most legitimate source I'll link to first. However most of these sources continuously linked to the second link here as their primary source of information. Despite scouring it several times I was unable to find that exact mention though the general claim is almost certainly true given the surrounding facts. It's possible that I simply missed the mention but am flagging this to leave up to your discretion.
|1||2||These nitrogen molecules form our DNA, our amino acids, and countless other molecules essential to life.2||TRUE! Article from Penn state [page 3] notes nitrogen molecules in DNA and presence in every living cell.||https://www.psu.edu/dept/cellwall/DC/EnrichingTheEarth.pdf |
|1||3||its [The Haber Process] development let our population explode from 1.6 to 7.6 billion people in under 100 years, by producing enough fertiliser to grow the food needed to sustain all that extra life.3||TRUE! Explosion of population confirmed to have jumped from 1.6 billion after the Haber process. Linked article and various others including pop-sci list a more conservative 6+ billion based from the early 2 thousands but as of the *current* year we are at 7.6+ billion . Finally Figure 1 in the final link from an academic article on the subject shows the number within 100 years to be a bit less than claimed but not so much to give me pause.||http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/smil-article-1999-nature7.pdf|
|1||4||Nitrogen is a colourless, tasteless, odourless gas. Human beings cannot see it or smell it, and our species might have evolved that way because it makes up an overwhelming 78% of the air around us.4||TRUE! Los Alamos National lab confirms the air percentage and its lack of color/smell.||https://periodic.lanl.gov/7.shtml|
|1||5||We inhale it in every breath, alongside oxygen (which makes up 21% of our air). But unlike oxygen, we exhale nitrogen straight back out again.5
||TRUE! Our body's inability ot use it and its presence (though lack of use) in our breathing cycle is noted by the sydney herald||https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/we-breath-in-oxygen-and-breath-out-carbon-dioxide-where-does-the-carbon-come-from-20080604-gdsgw5.html|
|2||6||The contradiction is that every cell in our bodies (and every cell of every living creature) desperately needs nitrogen to create amino acids, proteins, DNA, and tons of other important things.6||TRUE! Article from Penn state [page 3]confirms the need of Nitrogen in all living cells.||https://www.psu.edu/dept/cellwall/DC/EnrichingTheEarth.pdf |
|2||7||Plants in particular have an insatiable need for nitrogen and struggle to get it, even though we are all surrounded by it.7||TRUE! "Role of Nitrogen..." linked form Researchgate confirms plants' particular need for nitrogen and inability ot directly make use of the nitrogen in the air.||https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309704090_Role_of_Nitrogen_for_Plant_Growth_and_Development_A_review|
|2||8||Nitrogen is the seventh most abundant element in the Milky Way, and like many elements it is formed as a residue from an exploding star.8
||TRUE! ThoughtCo confirms Nitrogen's seventh most abundant ranking with the new yorker confirming creation via exploding star.||https://www.thoughtco.com/most-abundant-element-in-known-space-4006866|
|3||9||The problem is that most nitrogen atoms are tightly bonded with other nitrogen atoms using three of its seven electrons, creating what is known in chemistry as a powerful triple bond (N≡N).9||TRUE! Libretext confirms both that Nitrogen generally exists in triple bond, the composition of such a bond, and the strength of such a bond.||https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Inorganic_Chemistry/Supplemental_Modules_(Inorganic_Chemistry)/Descriptive_Chemistry/Elements_Organized_by_Block/2_p-Block_Elements/Group_15%3A_The_Nitrogen_Family/Z%3D007_Chemistry_of_Nitrogen_(Z%3D7)|
|3||10|| it took until 1772 for human beings to discover the existence of nitrogen in the first place.10
||TRUE! Discovery in 1772 by Daniel Rutherford is noted by Los Alamos national lab.||https://periodic.lanl.gov/7.shtml|
|3||11||Our species has existed for 350,000 years, and it took us 348,228 of them to discover a gas that we inhale with every breath.11||Probably true! Going by species homo Sapiens are normally listed as having existed about 200k years as seen in first link from NPR however relatively recent findings date as far back as 300k years as noted by skull found in article 2 from science magazine, and finally Reuters shows further pushback in article 3 with 350k still being a bit variable but a perfectly acceptable/strong estimate||https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2012/09/11/160934187/for-how-long-have-we-been-human|
|3||12||At the end of the day we’re a species that evolved to hunt, gossip, invent things, tell stories, and have sex. But when we finally did work out the concept of nitrogen (and it’s triple bond) we conquered the Earth.12||TRUE! A subjective claim that I normally wouldn't highlight but to avoid sinking time into shuffling the order of all further claims, adding refferences to our population explosion in large part due to Nitrogen enhanced farming.||"http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/smil-article-1999-nature7.pdf|
|3||13||triple bond is formidable. Almost no cell can break it to re-use the nitrogen for other things, and that’s why we always exhale it. For it to be used by life, the bond must be severed.13||TRUE! While exact percentages of how many cells would be able to break and re-use nitrogen would require afairly deep rabit hole first reference from Science Mag confirms the intense difficulty involved in breaking apart such a bond. The need for the bond to be broken to be used in noted in reference 2 from ck12 textbooks noting the need to break it down into nitrates.||https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2000/08/under-pressure-nitrogen-breaks-its-bonds|
|3||14||Very early in Earth’s history, the only way to do this was pure chance. When the bolts of a lightning storm seared through the air, sometimes the nitrogen molecules in the air would be cleaved in two. During this period, life was basic. Only tiny organisms could live with so little ‘severed’ nitrogen available.14||TRUE! The research article "Nitrogen Oxides in Early Earth's Atmosphere as Electron Acceptors for Life's Emergence." notes creation of usable nitrogen in early earth through lightning storms and the way in which this sparked life (no pun intended)||https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29023147|
|4||15||After millions of years, some bacteria evolved to produce chemicals that broke down nitrogen in the air in a more subdued way. They eventually evolved a partnership with many plant species, who grew nodules in their root systems specifically to house their colonies.15||TRUE! This early creation and evolution of basic organisms matches modern thoughts in the field of abiogenesis as descriped by brittanica in reference 1. |
Reference 2, also from brittanica, goes into furhter detail and confirms claims of this partnership between plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria including their presence in the roots of plants and the root nodules they stimulate into growth when moving in.
Reference 3 provides further evidence for this process to be part of an evolutionary process of both the bacteria seeking a host and a plant becoming a better host.
|4||16||If you pull many plants out by their roots, you’ll see the bulbs that house nitrogen-fixing bacteria [img]16||TRUE! Reference 1 confirms that stock photo used is indeed of root nodules||https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/root-nodules.html|
|5||17||when the bond is broken, nitrogen forms compounds like ammonium (NH4), ammonia (NH3), nitrite (NO2), and nitrate (NO3). These compounds are usable for life, which is known as being ‘bioavailable’.17||TRUE! The nitrogen compounds name and chemical formulas are noted in this article by Nature with the implication for the meaning of bioavailable from context but we also have a second link from Webster's confirming the term bioavailable being appropriate||https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-nitrogen-cycle-processes-players-and-human-15644632|
|5||18||With this partnership, plants and animals seem to have sorted out the nitrogen issue. Life blossomed from tiny single cells to complete ecosystems, like jungles, swamps, grasslands, and forests.18||Speculative but with a firm foundation. The rough ordering of events can be shown from naturalhistory's history of life and from nasa's noting nitrogen in rocks as effectively a fossil of early life.||https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/life-science/early-life-earth-animal-origins|
|6||19||All of these bioavailable nitrogen compounds dissolve super easily in water, so every time it rains the hard work of the bacteria gets washed away.19||TRUE! Story in the latimes notes that calcium and nitrates are the first thigns washed out of soil during rainfall.||https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-mar-15-re-29095-story.html|
|6||20||Almost every ecosystem on land is still limited by a bottleneck of nitrogen, and does not grow as fast as it could. This may be surprising to some gardeners, but almost all wild plants don’t grow to their full potential.20||TRUE! Research review from NA U notes this bottleneck and its limiting effect on plant growth, best seen on page 30, but flagging to note that their research also shows plants evolving means to affect the Nitrogen available in the environment. The concept of the bottleneck is valid enough and seems dominant in broad strokes but possibility exists some potentially interesting exceptions.||https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2005.01571.x|
|6||21||Under perfect conditions, including a plentiful supply of nitrogen, some species of bamboo can grow up to 91 cm (36 inches) per day.21||TRUE! Guiness confirms 'some' species reaching 91 cm per day, reference 2 is a research paper that notes the effect o nitrogen in plant growth (while also noting that an excess can stunt growth as well) and finally reference 3 simply has graphs and photoevidence of bamboo growth rates among various species.||https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-growing-plant/|
|6||22||Just before WWI, Haber discovered that you can break nitrogen’s triple bond by mixing it with natural gas and passing it across several catalysts (chemicals that speed up reactions) while under pressure. You end up with lots of ammonia, which is mixed in with plant fertiliser. The process was both economic and scalable.22||TRUE...although....|
The timing of the process' development and the general description are correct by our first reference. However on the topic of the process being economic and scalable the first source from the university of Bristol notes that it used aluminum. At the time aluminum was fairly expensive and our second source credits carl Bosch with making the process scalable and economical.
|7||23||With ammonia in their fertiliser, our crops grew like crazy, as explained in the Wikipedia page Haber process:23||True! As a second source, this research article from the University of Virginia helps confirm the effect of ammonia based fertiliser on our crops.|
For the Wikipedia quote itself the BBC provides an additional more recent source (in addition to the four tied to the quote in the wikipedia article). BBC is slightly more conservative doubling down on 1% of world energy used and it only lists 160 tons rather than 450 but this is due to BBC measuring by pure ammonia created rather than by the weight of the final fertilizer product which wikipedia measures by.
|7||24||Emphasis on that last part. [with pesticides farm output has quadrupled] It’s not an exaggeration to say that this discovery created the modern world as we know it.|
The Haber process has been called the “detonator of the population explosion” as in less than 100 years the number of people on Earth grew from 1.6 billion to 7.6 billion (as of writing), and it continues to grow.24
|TRUE! Same sources as claim 3 are being pulled upon here and the commentary carries over. One addition is the fourth source which is simply a nature article that uses the term "Detonator of the population explosion" to describe the process, confirming the title being used by some circles.||"http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/smil-article-1999-nature7.pdf|
|7||25||We are all the product of the industrial production of food and fertiliser. In 2019, 50% of the nitrogen found in human cells originated from the Haber process.25||Same sources and same commentary as claim 1||https://www.popsci.com/fertilizer-nitrogen/|
|8||26||Plants only absorb about 50% of the ammonia in the fertiliser we give them. As always, when it rains the rest is washed from agricultural and residential areas into rivers, and eventually into the ocean.26||la times confirms the washing away of ammonia during rainfall and the claim that plants only absorb 50% of the ammonia in fertiliser we give them is not something I was able to find a source for however. |
Instead, source 2 is a research paper on nitrogen pollution caused by farming practices and suggests that proper management can reduce or in same cases outright null runnoff caused by rains you would expect if 50% of ammonia remained unused. Our third source from Crop Nutrition makes a similar suggestion since it notes optimal levels and mixtures for different plants suggesting that plants in general simply have different caps.
I will note that the 50% metric COULD be true if it's not implying anything about plants having a tendency to leave half of the N they encounte rin the soil but rather suggests that our farms tend to use about twice as much ammonia as the plants would be willing/able to take. However while above sources suggest some farms do use incorrect amounts of fertilizer I have not found any sources estimating the average amount of wasted fertilizer to be double.
|8||27||The unintentional introduction of so much nitrogen in these environments creates problems, usually as an enormous bloom of algae (tiny waterborne plants). The bloom survives until the excess of nitrogen washes away.27||TRUE! Article on water pollution and Algal Blooms by the EPA confirms the problems caused by excess nitrogen. Second source, while speaking of smaller algae blooms in home ponds and the like, serves to note that one of the major ways of culling algae blooms are to cut off its supplies of nutrients including Nitrogen so we can extrapolate that the washing away of nitrogen would cause the bloom to die off as well assuming it has no other source of nutrients.||https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/issue|
|9||28||When it dies, the huge volume of decaying matter absorbs all of the oxygen in the surrounding water. It makes the water unbreathable for every fish or animal that cannot escape the area.
These algae blooms can be so huge that they can be seen from space.28
|TRUE! The EPA notes that algae blooms dying is a major cause of deadzones for the reasons described in the claim. Wired confirms, and has pretty galleries of, algae blooms visible from space.||https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-dead-zones-and-harmful-algal-blooms|