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Amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles in the health of all living things. They are the essential compounds for life and as such are needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.

Humans may also take additional amino acids in supplement form for a natural way to boost athletic performance or improve mood.

Soil amino acids are important sources of organic nitrogen for plant nutrition, in fact amino acids serve as a key mobilisable source of nitrogen in plants, and their transport across cell membranes is necessary for uptake of nutrients from soil.

This two part blog tells you everything you need to know about essential amino acids, including how they function, sources and methods of extraction, their importance to plants and benefits to sustainable farming.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. When a series of amino acids are joined by peptide bonds, proteins are formed. Proteins are important macromolecules involved in all aspects of the growth and development of plants.

There are about 20 amino acids that can help plants, animals, and humans grow and develop. Though all 20 of these are important for health, they are individually required for specific functions.

The amino acids responsible for chlorophyll synthesis are Alanine, Arginine, and Glycine. For the development of the root or to delay the senescence, there are Arginine and Methionine. If we want to achieve a chelating effect on the soil and better development of shoots and leaves plants use Glycine. For the resistance systems of the plant, the best types are lysineglutamic acid, and glycine.

Sources and methods of extraction

The main sources of amino acids are extracted from vegetables, animals, fish or synthetics. Those obtained by plants are extracted from vegetable waste of soybean, cereals, fish, etc. 

Traditionally, two processes are used in agriculture to obtain amino acids. These processes are known as, acid hydrolysis and enzymatic hydrolysis.

Acid hydrolysis method is the most basic and low-cost option. It is achieved by prolonged boiling of the protein with an acid solution. The method is quite aggressive, so the resulting amino acids are of low quality, creating a high percentage amino acids destroyed during the process. 

The enzymatic hydrolysis process is much less aggressive. It is not necessary to apply extreme temperature and instead of an acid solution, an enzyme is used. The process is more expensive and complex, but the percentage of free amino acids are much higher, so in contrast to the acid hydrolysis approach the resulting composition is mostly usable by the plant.

Benefits of applying amino acids

Plants synthesise amino acids from the N absorbed as nitrate or ammonium that is in the soil. During the process of absorbing nitrogen from the soil, the plant consumes a considerable amount of energy which is diverted from the plant’s growth activities. The main reason why it is so important to applicate these products in agriculture is the energy savings that they achieve. The energy saved is diverted to other important processes such as sprouting, flowering, or fruiting. The outcome of which is an increase in the quality and the production of the crop or pasture.

In part two of this series we will look at the relationship amino acids have with synthetic nitrogen and benefits to sustainable farming.

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