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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Understand the nutritional adaptations of plants
  • Describe mycorrhizae
  • Explain nitrogen fixation

Plants obtain food in two different ways. Autotrophic plants can make their own food from inorganic raw materials, such as carbon dioxide and water, through photosynthesis in the presence of sunlight. Green plants are included in this group. Some plants, however, are heterotrophic: they are totally parasitic and lacking in chlorophyll. These plants, referred to as holo-parasitic plants, are unable to synthesize organic carbon and draw all of their nutrients from the host plant.

Plants may also enlist the help of microbial partners in nutrient acquisition. Particular species of bacteria and fungi have evolved along with certain plants to create a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with roots. This improves the nutrition of both the plant and the microbe. The formation of nodules in legume plants and mycorrhization can be considered among the nutritional adaptations of plants. However, these are not the only type of adaptations that we may find; many plants have other adaptations that allow them to thrive under specific conditions.

This video reviews basic concepts about photosynthesis. In the left panel, click each tab to select a topic for review.

Nitrogen fixation: root and bacteria interactions

Nitrogen is an important macronutrient because it is part of nucleic acids and proteins. Atmospheric nitrogen, which is the diatomic molecule N 2, or dinitrogen, is the largest pool of nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. However, plants cannot take advantage of this nitrogen because they do not have the necessary enzymes to convert it into biologically useful forms. However, nitrogen can be “fixed,” which means that it can be converted to ammonia (NH 3 ) through biological, physical, or chemical processes. As you have learned, biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen (N 2 ) into ammonia (NH 3 ), exclusively carried out by prokaryotes such as soil bacteria or cyanobacteria. Biological processes contribute 65 percent of the nitrogen used in agriculture. The following equation represents the process:

N 2 + 16  ATP  +  8 e   +  8 H +    2NH 3   +  16 ADP  +  16 Pi  +  H 2

The most important source of BNF is the symbiotic interaction between soil bacteria and legume plants, including many crops important to humans ( [link] ). The NH 3 resulting from fixation can be transported into plant tissue and incorporated into amino acids, which are then made into plant proteins. Some legume seeds, such as soybeans and peanuts, contain high levels of protein, and serve among the most important agricultural sources of protein in the world.

Art connection

 Top photo shows a bowl of shelled peanuts. Middle photo shows red kidney beans. Bottom photo shows white, bumpy, round chickpeas.
Some common edible legumes—like (a) peanuts, (b) beans, and (c) chickpeas—are able to interact symbiotically with soil bacteria that fix nitrogen. (credit a: modification of work by Jules Clancy; credit b: modification of work by USDA)

Farmers often rotate corn (a cereal crop) and soy beans (a legume), planting a field with each crop in alternate seasons. What advantage might this crop rotation confer?

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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