COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A common ingredient of peat and soil may rob plants of the nutrients they need to grow, according to research at Ohio State University. The work is part of an ongoing study to determine whether large molecules of decomposed plant matter called "humic acid" are able to envelop smaller molecules and trap them for years, or even indefinitely. Over time, humic acid may trap and store molecules that replenish soil nutrients, effectively keeping them out of reach of living plants that need those nutrients to grow.
In his previous work, Patrick G. Hatcher, professor of chemistry at Ohio State, proved that molecules of humic acid can trap environmental contaminants. This study proved that humic acid can also trap nitrogen-containing proteins, vital substances in soil nutrient replenishment.
Hatcher and Ohio State chemistry graduate student Xu Zang presented their results at the recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California. Hatcher said researchers want to understand how humic acid traps molecules so they can figure out whether the process can be reversed.
"Think of a molecule of humic acid as a shell that is very strong, but if you hammer on it long enough, you can crack it and release what's inside," Hatcher said.